SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia's government refused to comment on a report on Saturday (Oct 31) that said it was considering resettling refugees it currently houses on two Pacific islands in the Central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan.
Canberra has made no secret of the fact it is in talks with a number of countries about taking refugees now living in the tiny state of Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus island but did not confirm the Kyrgyzstan option.
"We are having conversations with other countries to support our offshore processing arrangements and when we're in a position to make relevant announcements, the minister for immigration will do so," Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told Sky News.
The Weekend Australian story, which named no sources, said that majority-Muslim Kyrgyzstan was seen as a potential option for resettling refugees, in particular the Hazara people from Afghanistan.
It said other former Soviet bloc countries were also understood to be on the list of options, along with some African and South American states, but named no other country specifically and gave no indication of whether talks were underway.
A spokesman for Immigration Minister Peter Dutton made no comment on the story but referred to recent statements in which Mr Dutton confirmed discussions with the Philippines and "other countries".
"We have had bilateral discussions with other countries, including the Philippines at an officials level, at a ministerial level over a number of months," Mr Dutton told journalists in Canberra on Oct 9.
"If we can strike other arrangements with other countries, we will do that, but I won't publicly speculate on it."
Under Australia's hardline policy to stop asylum-seeker boats reaching its shores, those arriving by sea are denied resettlement in Australia even if found to be genuine refugees.
Instead they are turned back to their country of departure or sent to Nauru or PNG, where more than 1,500 are now being held.
Australia has already struck an agreement with Cambodia to accept refugees in exchange for millions of dollars in aid but only a handful of people have taken up the offer and the deal has been strongly criticised by rights groups.
The Philippines said on Tuesday it was "seriously considering" an Australian government proposal but stressed it would not accept any refugees permanently given its responsibilities to its own people, about one quarter of whom live in deep poverty.
Australia's Greens, staunch opponents of the conservative government's immigration policies, ridiculed the idea of sending people to Kyrgyzstan.
"What next? Are we going to send people to Mars?" leader Richard Di Natale said.
"This is ridiculous that we would look for any option other than the most logical, humane and economically responsible option which is to ensure we process people here in Australia and, if they are found to be genuine refugees, that they are settled here."