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Wednesday, 14 June 1989
Page: 3979

Senator RICHARDSON —I wish to answer a question Senator Reid asked me in Question Time yesterday concerning Indo-Chinese refugees. The Government endorses and supports the principles outlined in the comprehensive plan of action, including the proposal for the resettlement of those who arrived before the cut-off dates announced by Hong Kong and the states of the Association of South East Asian Nations on 16 June 1988 and 14 March 1989 respectively. Senator Gareth Evans announced yesterday at the Geneva Conference that Australia would be willing to accept up to 11,000 of the pre-cut-off date population, which is 20 per cent of the case load. However, Australia's participation in such a resettlement effort will be conditional upon other countries accepting commensurate resettlement obligations and there being broad adherence to all the other commitments outlined in the comprehensive plan of action. This off-take, which is in addition to the resettlement of people determined to be refugees by duly constituted screening procedures for those who arrived in South East Asia after 14 March 1989, and after 16 June 1988 in the case of Hong Kong, will be taken over three years and will be included within the Government's annual refugee and special humanitarian programs.

In answer to the last part of the question, the comprehensive plan of action states that persons determined as not being refugees should return to their country of origin and encourages the voluntary return of such persons in the first instance. The comprehensive plan of action also notes that if, after the passage of reasonable time, it becomes clear that voluntary repatriation is not making sufficient progress towards the desired objective, alternatives recognised as being acceptable under international practice would be examined. The Government supports the principle that people who are determined as not being refugees under the 1951 United Nations Convention and the 1967 protocol relating to the status of refugees, to which Australia is a signatory, are expected to return to their country of origin under conditions of safety and dignity in accordance with international practice.