CANBERRA, Australia — Australia will find another country to resettle hundreds of asylum seekers now held on poor Pacific islands, a minister said Tuesday as his government planned to banish for life refugees who arrive by boat.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton declined to identify countries with which Australia is negotiating to accept almost 1,300 asylum seekers from Africa, the Middle East and Asia who are kept at Australia’s expense in camps at Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
“We have been in negotiation with third countries for a long period of time and we are going to land a deal,” Dutton told reporters, referring to countries that are neither the asylum seekers’ homelands nor the country where they are currently kept.
The Australian newspaper reported last week that the United States and Canada could be among the countries that will accept Australia’s asylum seekers.
Few refugees have accepted offers to resettle in Papua New Guinea and Cambodia because most hope that Australia will eventually take them in.
Australia refuses to resettle any refugee who has arrived by boat since the date the tough policy was announced, July 19, 2013.
The government also introduced to Parliament legislation that would ban such refugees from ever visiting Australia as a tourist, to do business or as an Australian’s spouse.
“This legislation sends a strong message to people smugglers and those considering traveling illegally to Australia by boat that Australia’s borders are now stronger than ever,” Dutton told Parliament.
But the center-left opposition Labor Party said it will not support the legislation. Without Labor’s backing in the Senate, the conservative government will need to persuade independent and minor-party senators to make the bill law.
“The idea that a citizen of the United States or Canada or New Zealand faces a lifetime ban preventing them from visiting Australia in 30 or 40 years’ time is simply unacceptable,” Labor leader Bill Shorten said.
Amnesty International, a London-based human rights group, welcomed Labor’s stance against “this callous and cruel legislation.”
Australia has rejected a New Zealand offer to resettle 150 refugees. One of Australia’s reasons is that those refugees could then become New Zealand citizens and be entitled to live in Australia without a visa under the rules of the close bilateral relationship.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key last week talked down the prospect of a deal that would ban refugees accepted by New Zealand from ever traveling to Australia.
“We’re not going to be in the process of creating different classes of New Zealand citizens,” Key said.
Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that up to 10 male asylum seekers from Iran and Iraq kept at Papua New Guinea and married Australian women who worked at the immigration camp and had gained Australian spousal visas since 2012.
Dutton said described such marriages as “sham arrangements” and said his government “won’t tolerate the law being subverted.”
Story: Rod McGuirk