Aussie policy on migrants runs into problems

Australia's hard-line approach to migrants has been trumpeted as a solution to Europe's woes, but it turns out Canberra's plan increasingly appears to be in disarray.

In the first of two setbacks yesterday, the Federal Government was forced to defend a controversial deal with Cambodia to resettle refugees being held in a detention centre in the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru.

Australia has reportedly agreed to pay an extra A$40 million (S$40.3 million) in aid to Cambodia, plus about A$15.5 million to resettle the refugees. However, just four asylum seekers have taken up the offer and Phnom Penh has signalled that it wants no more.

A Cambodian Interior Ministry spokesman, Mr Khieu Sopheak, told the Cambodia Daily: "I think the less we receive the better."

Australia's Immigration Minister, Mr Peter Dutton, dismissed the comments, saying they were made by a "low level" official.

An Australian parliamentary inquiry... found there was a "culture of secrecy" surrounding the Nauru facility following claims that adult and children asylum seekers were abused by staff and that security guards spied on a Greens MP during an official visit.

"We hope a lot more will follow the four, but the (deal) has been signed between Cambodia and Australia and we expect it to be honoured," he told ABC News.

The Cambodia deal has been an important component of Prime Minister Tony Abbott's effort to stem the flow of asylum seekers arriving by boat from Indonesia. They have mainly come from strife-torn nations including Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Myanmar. But the Cambodia deal has been criticised by the United Nations, which says Australia is shirking its responsibility to resettle refugees.

Other measures adopted by Mr Abbott to deter migrants have included towing boats back to Indonesian waters - a move which has infuriated Jakarta - and sending asylum seekers to camps in Nauru and a remote island in Papua New Guinea.

Mr Abbott's policies have effectively ended the flow of asylum seekers in the past two years. But Canberra's approach has led to heavy international criticism. As at June 30, there were 655 asylum seekers including 88 children in detention in Nauru and 945 adults in Papua New Guinea, according to official figures.

In a further blow to Canberra, an Australian parliamentary inquiry released a scathing report yesterday about the running of the detention facility in Nauru. The inquiry by a Senate committee found there was a "culture of secrecy" surrounding the facility following claims that adult and children asylum seekers were abused by staff and that security guards spied on a Greens MP during an official visit.

The committee's majority, consisting of opposition MPs, said the centre was "not run well" and that the government was not fully aware of incidents on Nauru because many services were conducted by private contractors.

A minority, consisting of Government MPs, released a dissenting report, that said the inquiry was politically motivated and the Government was working with Nauru officials to ensure the centre was a "safe and secure environment".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 01, 2015, with the headline 'Aussie policy on migrants runs into problems'. Print Edition | Subscribe