Australia closes controversial internment camp for immigrants

Other News Materials 8 February 2008 09:24 (UTC +04:00)

( dpa ) - A planeload of Sri Lankan asylum-seekers arriving in Brisbane from Australia's offshore immigration detention centre on the Pacific Island of Nauru signalled the end of the controversial Pacific Solution to unwanted arrivals by sea.

The 21 Sri Lankans, who will be settled in Australia, are the last occupants of the Nauru centre, which will now be closed permanently. Australia's other offshore centre, on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, has already closed.

The touchdown in Brisbane signals Prime Minister Kevin Rudd making good on his promise to dismantle predecessor John Howard's Pacific Solution, which saw foreigners without visas arriving by sea whisked off to either Nauru or Manus Island.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans has emphasized that those arriving by sea without a visa - or, indeed, by air - would still get locked up until their applications were processed.

"There's no suggestion of us weakening the policy in terms of border security and intercepting boats headed towards Australia," Evans said after Labor won office in November's general election.

The immigration centre on Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, will remain open.

Since 1999 around 10,000 people have arrived by boat in Australia and claimed asylum about 90 per cent of them have been successful in their claims and have been given 3-year temporary protection visas after a stay at an on-shore immigration detention centre or on Manus Island or in Nauru.

Howard unveiled the Pacific Solution in September 2001 when mostly Middle Easterners were getting off ramshackle Indonesian fishing boats on northern beaches and claiming asylum at the rate of 1,000 a month.

The Pacific Solution involved preventing immigrants from engaging Australia's legal system by excising outlying territories, setting up the offshore immigration detention centres in Nauru and Manus, and making life more difficult for those who got over these hurdles and were allowed in as genuine refugees.

The Pacific Solution is credited with drying up asylum-seeker arrivals.