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October 2013, Volume 20, Number 4

Australia: Pacific Solution

Australian politicians in summer 2013 grappled with foreigners who fly to Indonesia and pay smugglers to take them by boat to Australia's Christmas Island. Some 15,800 foreigners applied for asylum in Australia in 2012.

In July 2013, the Labor government announced that foreigners who arrive by boat without visas and apply for asylum will be sent to Papua New Guinea and Nauru for processing and, if found to be refugees, will be resettled in these countries. Nauru is an island of 10,000 whose phosphate that was used in fertilizers is gone, and PNG is another island with a shaky economy. Australia pays Nauru A$1,000 a month for each asylum seeker it accepts.

Iranian asylum seekers at an Australian-run detention center on the Pacific island nation of Nauru burned most of a facility holding several hundred in July 2013 after the new resettle-in-PNG policy was announced.

The Australian government said that offshore processing would protect asylum seekers from drowning and decrease the business of people smugglers by discouraging Afghanis, Iranians and Sri Lankans from attempting to go from Indonesia to Australia by boat. In mid-July 2013 a boat with hundreds of migrants bound for Australia sank off the cost of Indonesia's most populous island, Java.

Migrant advocates criticized the Australian government's return to the so-called Pacific Solution developed by the previous Liberal-National government. Then PM John Howard won re-election in 2001 after sending asylum seekers arriving by boat to PNG and Nauru and asserting that Australians are "in charge of this country and we'll decide who comes here." Tony Abbott of the Liberal-National coalition defeated the Labor government in September 2013 elections and suggested that the Pacific Solution would be continued.

Immigration. Both Australia and New Zealand select most of their immigrants on the basis of point systems that award points to individuals for being young and knowing English and having skills. There are several doors or streams for skilled immigrants, plus separate streams for immigrants coming to join family members and refugees. In 2011-12, almost 185,000 immigrants arrived in Australia, including two-thirds who were admitted because a member of the family scored sufficient points. Three countries, India (29,000), China (25,500), and the UK (25,300), sent over 40 percent of Australia's immigrants.

The Trans-Tasman Travel Agreement permits free movement between Australia and New Zealand. In 2011-12, over 47,000 New Zealand citizens moved to Australia, making New Zealand the source of as many new immigrants as India, China and the UK combined.

New Zealand admitted 40,500 immigrants in 2011-12, including almost 19,000 admitted under the point system. The major source countries were the UK, 15 percent of immigrants, China, 13 percent, and India, 13 percent.

New Zealand's Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse in September 2013 introduced a bill that would increase fines on employers who "exploit" migrant workers to NZ $100,000 and up to seven years in prison. Woodhouse said that, in many cases, "the employer is a migrant themselves and taking advantage of vulnerable people from their own community." Unions welcomed the tougher penalties, but said that enforcement needs to be stepped up as well.