Australia said it would increase its annual refugee intake by 40 per cent to 20,000 a year, as part of a plan to deter people smugglers.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the rise, which was recommended by a recent expert inquiry into refugee policy, would include the immediate resettlement of 400 asylum-seekers from Indonesia as a gesture of goodwill
“We will be increasing our annual refugee intake from 13,750 to 20,000 places in this financial year,” Mrs Gillard said in a statement. The financial year began on July 1.
“This is a more than 40 percent increase to our humanitarian intake and the biggest boost to Australia’s refugee intake in 30 years.”
The boost, accompanied by a £6.8 million funding injection to regional refugee programmes, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia, is part of tough new policies aimed at stopping people-smuggling.
Canberra hopes the measures, which include the offshore detention of boatpeople on remote Manus Island and Nauru in the Pacific for indefinite periods, will deter asylum-seekers from making the dangerous sea voyage.
Hundreds have died in the past year in the seas between Indonesia and Australia in smuggling ship accidents, but that has not deterred asylum-seekers from continuing to attempt the voyage in record numbers.
Gillard said the immediate resettlement of 400 refugees from key transit country Indonesia “underscores our commitment to offering safe alternatives to dangerous boat journeys”.
“This increase shows that people can pursue regular options and be safely referred to resettlement countries such as Australia as part of an orderly humanitarian program. Taking a dangerous boat journey is no advantage.”
Australia would consult with the UN’s refugee agency and regional partners to allocate the remaining places, with Immigration Minister Chris Bowen saying they would mostly be drawn from the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Africa.
According to Bowen, the new quota would make Australia the world’s second-largest refugee resettlement country after the United States.