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Govt insists no special deal -

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Govt insists no special deal

Alexandra Kirk reported this story on Thursday, November 19, 2009 12:14:00

ELEANOR HALL: The Australian Customs ship the Oceanic Viking is now on its way to Singapore to be
reprovisioned before returning to border protection duties.

The Federal Government is still insisting that there was no special deal with the asylum seekers
who refused for weeks to leave the ship.

The Immigration Minister Chris Evans has been explaining to Alexandra Kirk why the remaining 56
men, women and children finally decided to disembark yesterday.

CHRIS EVANS: It was really I think a matter of them gaining confidence. The Australian officials
worked with them to provide reassurance that they could come off and they'd be treated humanely.
And I think once that confidence was established they took that decision and we're very pleased
that's happened.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Those found to be refugees, do you expect most if not all of them to end up being
resettled in Australia?

CHRIS EVANS: The UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) will refer them to
resettlement countries.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: And if there is no other country that's willing to take any of these refugees then
presumably Australia takes the bulk of them, if not all of them?

CHRIS EVANS: Well I'm not sure how that will pan out as I say but we've certainly made it clear
that we're going to take, we will accept our responsibilities and we're one of the key resettlement
countries in the region.

We'd already been working with Indonesia on dealing with the protracted caseload. One of their
major concerns is that they don't have people left for years in Indonesia. We've been working on
trying to help them with that resettlement. And Australia and New Zealand took some last year as
part of that, you know, trying to help them deal with that longer term issue.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But just on that point, the Government maintains there's been no special deal for
this group, or as Kevin Rudd puts it, non-extraordinary treatment. But there are some asylum
seekers who've been in Indonesia for years waiting to have their refugee claims assessed and then
if deemed refugees they wait another period of time to be resettled.

How can you argue that this isn't a special deal? Because from woe to go the Oceanic Viking asylum
seekers are going to be processed and resettled within three months.

CHRIS EVANS: Well what we made clear is that, I mean there are millions of refugees around the
world who don't get resettled. There are many seeking asylum who don't get assessed.

What we've done over the years is build up the UNHCR capacity in Indonesia.

But we entered into an agreement with them about temporary arrangements for those who disembarked
off the Oceanic Viking in the very special circumstances of a rescue at sea in their search and
rescue zone.

And the arrangements between us and them are being honoured by both of us. And those arrangements
were conveyed to the asylum seekers to tell them this is what will happen when you get off the
boat.

They wanted to come to Australia and they were told they weren't coming to Australia.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The only reason that Australia forged this agreement with Indonesia is because the
asylum seekers refused to get off the Oceanic Viking and Indonesia said they wouldn't accept anyone
who was forced off the Oceanic Viking. So the actions of the asylum seekers was the reason you had
this deal with Indonesia.

CHRIS EVANS: No I'm not sure that's right. What we had is an arrangement with them when we effected
the rescue at sea. And under international law of the sea we should take them to the nearest
country. We took them to Indonesia under the agreement we had with them because we rescued them in
their search and rescue zone.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: So did you do the deal with Indonesia even before these asylum seekers started
refusing to get off the Oceanic Viking?

CHRIS EVANS: Well there was an engagement with, there was an engagement with officials. I'm not
sure of the exact timeline.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Now according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as of September
there are 101 Sri Lankans recognised as refugees in need of resettlement in Indonesia. Many had
been there since 2006. So how can you deny that the Oceanic Viking asylum seekers haven't received
a special deal?

CHRIS EVANS: Well as I say the arrangements are between governments and we are working with the
Indonesians already on resettlement of people out of Indonesia.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: So Sri Lankan refugees who have been in Indonesia for years now, are they going to
be suddenly resettled within 12 weeks?

CHRIS EVANS: No they're not, no they're not suddenly going to be resettled. But the UNHCR runs the
processes there. We help fund the UNHCR. We help support the protections system there. And the
UNHCR refers them to various countries.

We've taken about 450 in the last seven or eight years so we've carried the largest part of the
load. The UNHCR will continue to refer people on that basis. We've taken some last year. We'll take
some this year under the normal processes.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: So how is it normal then for these refugees to be resettled, or processed and
resettled within three months maximum versus all the other ones who've been in Indonesia for years?

CHRIS EVANS: Well because, as I've said time and time again this week, there's an agreement between
the governments to deal with the special circumstances of a rescue at sea.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: So it is special...

CHRIS EVANS: Well there's unusual circumstances...

ALEXANDRA KIRK: There's special circumstances and a special deal.

CHRIS EVANS: Well it's, no, a deal implies there's been some negotiation with the asylum seekers.
That's not right. What we've had is an agreement between two countries at how we dealt with a
rescue at sea. But yes there are other asylum seekers in Indonesia and around the world who won't
get processed and who are seeking asylum and that runs to millions.

But what we have been doing is working with the Indonesian Government through the reinvigorated
Bali process to get better solutions for people throughout South-East Asia and as part of that
Australia is committed to do its part.

But we're not going to do all of it. We're going to fit these people within our normal program but
we are assisting the Indonesians because they are bearing the brunt of some of that burden at the
moment and in part because those people are seeking to come to Australia.

So there's burden sharing. There's better regional cooperation. And we're working on solutions to
having people moving between countries in an unauthorised way. And while there may be 100 Sri
Lankans still in Indonesia there's probably hundreds of others from, you know Afghans, Iraqis etc.
It's a big problem and we're working hard with the region to try and get better solutions.

ELEANOR HALL: That's the Immigration Minister Chris Evans speaking to Alexandra Kirk in Canberra.