Australian government says it could take more refugees, but there's a catch


Relatives of some of the 30 killed when a boat full of asylum seekers crashed on the rocks at Christmas Island on Dec. 15, 2010, trying to reach Australian soil, grieve during Muslim and Christian services held Feb. 15, 2011 in Sydney, Australia.


Don Arnold

Australia has been offered a solution to the contentious issue of Australia's asylum seeker intake: take in more.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen is suggesting 50 percent more.

"I have had the view for some time that we could and should take more refugees," Bowen told Australia's ABC on Thursday. "It's an aspiration ... there's no timeline that I'm putting on it."

Bowen will propose the increase — from 13,750 refugees to 20,000 — at a meeting of the ruling Labor Party this weekend.

He said that while Australia's refugees 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, there's a catch — Bowen suggested that a condition of any increased intake would be reinstating offshore processing of refugee claims.

Offshore processing is one of the more contentious factors of an issue that seems to polarize Australians on a regular basis. 

The Asylum Seeker Resource Center calls offshore processing "illegal, inhumane, unworkable and a huge waste of tax payers’ money," and refers to the practice bluntly as "warehousing of refugees in impoverished countries."  

And last year, the country's highest court questioned the legality of the system under which asylum-seekers who arrive by boat and are detained offshore — on Christmas Island, north of mainland Australia, and in the Micronesian country of Nauru — are denied access to Australian courts.

According to The Australian:

The full bench of the High Court unanimously rejected the federal government's attempt to keep asylum-seekers on Christmas Island outside the protection of Australian law.

The Australian government, however, rejected the ruling, with Bowen saying at the time that "there is not a significant implication for regional processing." 

Bowen said Thursday that: "Australia can and should take more refugees, but there's a legitimate community expectation that there be an orderly process to do so.

"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."

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