Australian Immigration Minister proposes increase in refugees

01 December 2011


Australian Immigration Minister Chris Bowen will push to increase Australia's refugee intake by almost 50 percent at Australia Labor Party's national conference this weekend. Under Bowen's proposal, Australian immigration would allow more refugees to reside in Australia, increasing the current figure of 13,750 to as many as 20,000 people annually.

"I have had the view for some time that we could and should take more refugees," he told ABC Radio on Thursday.

He noted that while the Australian government's refugee intake was the highest per person of any country in the world, "that doesn't mean I don't think we can do more still". However, under this proposal, Bowen suggested offshore processing of refugees had to be one of several measures to reduce the number of people from arriving by boat. Many refugees arrive by boat seeking asylum, which can be an extremely dangerous journey navigating Australian waters.

"Australia can and should take more refugees, but there's a legitimate community expectation that there be an orderly process to do so," said Bowen. "And if you do have that orderly process, if you're able to have that regional agreements in place to achieve that, then the sorts of things you can talk about are substantial increases to our refugee intake going further."

Bowen faces strong opposition in announcing this proposal as Labor recently abandoned a plan to put a bill to allow offshore processing of asylum seekers in Malaysia to a vote in October, after it could not guarantee its passage through parliament.

The bill, which proposed to process 800 asylum seekers in Malaysia in exchange for resettling 4,000 refugees over four years, was rejected by the Australian High Court for being a violation of asylum seekers' human rights.

Mr Bowen believes his party's endorsement of his proposal will aid the reintroduction of regional offshore processing deals such as the Malaysia Solution.

"We want to give more people a life in Australia but we need to tackle the dangerous boats coming to Australia," he added.

The Australian Immigration Minister described the target as "an aspiration" but did not mention a timeline on when he expects his new plan to be implemented.

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