Print Version    Email to Friend
Australia may off-load refugees in Philippines

SYDNEY (Mabuhay) : An Australian government desperate to  off load refugees that it is keeping in cold storage in Nauru and on the Papua New Guinean island of Manus may end up in The Philippines, John Menadue, a businessman and former national director of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Australia, writes.

Menadue said on October 6 that it is known that the national government in Canberra is negotiating with some countries in Asia to accept refugees, after its ill-fated and expensive initiative fell through in its infancy.

It is believed that Australia’s country of choice for the off-loading of its international responsibility is The Philippines.

The Nauru government has announced that 600 asylum seekers being held there are scheduled to be processed, which seems like a sudden rush of blood after two years languishing in sub-standard and often dangerous camps on the phosphate island with few signs of anyone going anywhere.

“An alternative must be found that safeguards the rights of detainees (and) any change must not give people smugglers even a hint that they can get back into business,” Menadue says.

The Philippines is the only Refugee Convention signatory in Australia’s geographical region that has a reasonable track record in the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees.

It also has an Emergency Transit Facility, which was established through a Memorandum of Understanding between the UNHCR and the Philippine government. In addition, it has consistently acted responsibly in relation to refugees.

However, Menadue notes that it is unlikely that The Philippines would agree to forced removal, as it is a Refugee Convention signatory.

Writing from Bangkok, Michael Sainsbury says in an article published by UCAN on October 9 that it is believed that the Philippine secretary for Foreign Affairs, told his Australian counterpart, Julie Bishop, that it was more or less a done and dusted deal.

However, the president of The Philippines, Noynoy Aquino, has expressed reservations.

He is concerned about the use of scarce resources which should go towards fostering decent employment for his own people, especially in view of the fact that 10 per cent of arguably the most industrious have given up on the Philippine economy and sought work overseas, often in dire and dangerous conditions.

Commentators say that the AUD$150 million ($844.2 million) Canberra is offering to pay over five years to off load its responsibility will do little to improve this situation.

Sainsbury also believes that Aquino may not be willing to risk the possibility of opening up a new people trafficking route, as asylum seekers who had paid to go to a first world country are unlikely to be satisfied with the scant economic pickings his economy can offer.

While neither side has confirmed that they are in negotiations, Menadue says, “I will not be surprised if it is confirmed that the Australian government might be in negotiations with the Philippine government. But a lot will depend on the package.”

Sainsbury believes that unlike the grubby deal Australia made with Cambodia by paying off the prime minister, Hun Sen, Aquino will approach the matter from a moral point of view.

The final question Stainsbury asks is where that leaves Australia, which he notes is sadly quite clear.