Australian minister visits PNG asylum centre

Tony Burke visits Manus Island camp, rocked by rape and torture claims, as PNG opposition launches legal action.

    Australia's immigration minister has rejected reports that the country's asylum-seeker processing centre in Papua New Guinea cannot cope with a large influx of detainees.

    Tony Burke visited the camp on Thursday in the wake of rape and torture claims at the centre on Manus Island, which the government plans to make the main base of its controversial new policy that would forbid any asylum-seeker arriving by boat from resettling in Australia.

    The agreement, known as the PNG Solution, has angered the PNG opposition, which has launched legal action in an attempt to thwart the action.

    Belden Namah, opposition leader, told Al Jazeera that the legal case would argue that the agreement was in breach of Papua New Guinea's constitution on human rights and of the UN Refugee Convention.

    "This is resettling in a third country," Namah said.

    The plan has also come under fire from critics, including Amnesty International Australia, which say that the facility at Lombrum Naval base could not cope with a large increase in detainees, given that an estimated 3,000 people have arrived to apply for asylum in Australia per month.

    Mr Burke said during his two-hour visit of the temporary facility with Australian high commissioner Deborah Stokes and Immigration Department Secretary Martin Bowles, that minimum welfare standards had been observed at the centre.

    "I have no doubt at all that a processing centre here on Manus can operate even with a significantly increased capacity," he said, according to Australian journalists who covered the visit.

    "In terms of making sure that the standards are there; that people have been given the opportunity for recreation, that people are being treated with dignity with the proper welfare supports that is around them, what I saw today is in line with most of the principles I want."

    Kevin Rudd, Australia's prime minister has said that the processing centre will be expanded to hold up to 3,000 people and that no cap has been placed on the number of people Australia can send to Papua New Guinea.

    Death toll rises

    Mr Burke said that he expected new arrivals to come to the centre within two weeks.

    His visit came as 70 men, believed to be Iraqis and Iranians, have been flown off Manus Island to be resettled at an undisclosed location in Australia, under the country's previous processing agreement with PNG.

    Survivors recount boat sinking off Australia

    Meanwhile, the death toll from the sinking of a boatload of Australia-bound asylum-seekers rose to 15 on Friday.

    Authorities said that they did not know if any passengers were still missing.

    The number on the overloaded boat was unclear. Police have said about 200 were aboard, but an asylum-seeker has said 250 people, mostly Sri Lankans, made the perilous journey.

    Al Jazeera's Step Vaessen, reporting from West Java said that sometimes asylum seekers disappeared after their planned boat trips to Australia went awry.

    "They will try very possibly their luck with Australia again," Vaessen said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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