Government reveals talks with Philippines on refugee resettlement

Government reveals talks with Philippines on refugee resettlement

The Australian government has confirmed reports they are in talks that could result in the resettling of refugees from Manus Island to the Philippines.

News Corp newspapers reported Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was told by her Philippine counterpart in New York last week a $150 million deal would go ahead.


The announcement has been met with criticism by human rights groups.


Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has refused to go into the details of the talks, but emphasises the need for collaboration when it comes to resettling refugees.


"Obviously, we want to try and provide, where we can, a regional arrangement and you are seeing the need for a regional approach in Europe at the moment. No one country can resolve the issue when you have millions of people moving across borders. And we have had bilateral discussions with other countries, including the Philippines."


Currently, Australia has a deal with Cambodia to resettle refugees from the Pacific Island of Nauru.


The $55 million deal, signed last year, has seen just four refugees resettled in Cambodia since June.


The Opposition has offered broad support for an agreement with the Philippines.


But leader Bill Shorten has expressed caution, saying he doesn't want to see a repeat of what has happened in Cambodia.


"Labor supports, in principle, constructive negotiations with the Philippines, but we are worried that the Liberals tend to announce their achievements before they have actually occurred and we certainly don't want a repeat of the Cambodia debacle where each refugee seems to have cost over $10 million to resettle. That is not good economics in anyone's language."


The Australian Greens have condemned the move.


Senator Sarah Hanson-Young says the Philippines is another country Australia wants to bribe to take refugees.


Human Rights advocates are also critical.


The Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre's David Manne says it is irresponsible for Australia to consider resettling anyone in the Philippines.


"The reality is that the Philippines is not a country that is suitable to resettle refugees in. It has very serious human rights problems of its own. There is widespread violence across the country, there is a very significant problem with corruption and abuse of power by authorities."


Immigration Minister Dutton says resettlement in other countries is the best option for refugees attempting to reach Australia by boat.


When asked about the security risk in the Philippines, he emphasised resettlement there will be voluntary.


"We can provide the same guarantees that we can to Australians that travel to the Philippines each year, the expats that live in the Philippines. People, in the end, will travel on a volunteer basis. We have made it clear to people that you won't settle in Australia."


The federal government says people smugglers are trying to lure customers by saying they may be more likely to get into Australia now that former Prime Minister Tony Abbott is gone.


Operation Sovereign Borders Commander Major General Andrew Bottrell is calling on diaspora communities in Australia to help discourage people from getting on boats.


"If you are aware of anyone overseas thinking that the policy has changed, and thinking about risking their lives to put themselves and their families on the water, think again, and ask them, strongly urge them, not to take that risk."


Meanwhile the government has begun processing applications from Syrian refugees.


Last month the government agreed to accept 12,000 people fleeing the war-torn Middle East.


Immigration Minister Dutton says 1,000 applications are currently being processed.


"I don't want places in the 12,000 taken by people who weren't at threat of being persecuted because that means we are going to displace from the 12,000, those who are legitimately in need, at considerable risk. We are going to do this the right way. We have screened out a number of people who have applied and predominantly the numbers will be made up of families of women and children."


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