Solomons PM rejects joining Australia's refugee plan

SUVA, Fiji (AFP) - The Solomon Islands on Tuesday said it had rejected a request from Australia to accept asylum-seekers as part of Canberra's so-called "Pacific solution" to deal with refugee boatpeople.

Solomons Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo said Canberra had approached him about sending asylum-seekers for processing but he had dismissed the idea.

"No, we will never consider that. It was informally put to us and I rejected it," he told reporters in Fiji.

"I basically said to them, (asylum-seekers) have made a choice to go to Australia, they don't make a choice to come to the Solomons."

Under the policy pursued by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, asylum-seekers arriving by ship will be processed and settled in far-flung Pacific nations, effectively closing Australia to boatpeople.

Papua New Guinea and Nauru have both agreed to be part of the policy, which aims to defuse the politically sensitive issue of asylum-seeker arrivals in Australia ahead of national elections on September 7.

Mr Lilo said he objected to the policy being labelled the Pacific solution as it was something that Australia was seeking to impose on the region, which consists largely of poor island states.

"It's not right, because a Pacific solution has to be discussed properly with all the Pacific leaders," he told the Fijivillage news website.

"So you cannot invent something in Australia and say that is the Pacific solution, that's wrong."

Australia has struggled to stem an influx of asylum-seekers arriving by boat, with record numbers turning up in 2012 and more than 17,000 so far in 2013.

Hundreds have drowned making the journey and Canberra hopes its harsh new stance will discourage refugees from engaging people-smugglers to try to get them to Australian waters on rickety boats.

Fiji's Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola last month accused Australia of trying to "dump" its refugee problem onto its Pacific neighbours, labelling the policy "inconsiderate, prescriptive, high-handed and arrogant".