Australia is seeking refugee resettlement deal with the Philippines to accommodate asylum-seekers being held indefinitely in controversial detention centers on remote islands, Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Friday.
The deal with the Philippines has not been finalized, but according to a local report, cited by the Guardian, Australia offered funding of $150 million over five years in initial talks.
“The governments of Australia and the Philippines have long cooperated on irregular migration, people smuggling and human trafficking. These issues are important to both countries, and to the region,” Bishop’s spokeswoman reportedly said. “These issues were discussed at a meeting between foreign minister Julie Bishop and her counterpart, secretary Mr Albert del Rosario, in the margins of the U.N. general assembly in New York.”
Australia’s Immigration Minister Peter Dutton also reportedly confirmed that the government has been in talks with several countries over possible resettlement of refugees.
"We have been very open to discussions for a long period of time with those partners because we have been very clear about the fact that people on Nauru and people on Manus who have sought to come to our country illegally by boat won't be settling in Australia," Dutton told reporters in Canberra, according to the Associated Press.
"We have a bilateral arrangement with Cambodia. If we can strike other arrangements with other countries, we will do that," he added. To be sure, Australia has a multimillion-dollar deal with Cambodia to resettle refugees from an Australia-run detention camp on the Pacific nation of Nauru.
According to the Guardian, asylum-seekers and refugees on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island said they have not been formally told of any plan to resettle them in the Philippines. They also reportedly said there will be very few who would accept any offer to move to the Southeast Asian archipelago.
“All of the people are angry because they are saying the Australian government put us in the suffering situation for 27 months as a hostage and after long time they want to send us to Philippines. ... I think this policy is like modern slave trade,” a man held in detention on the island told Guardian.
Dutton reportedly said Friday that the proposed deal with the Philippines would not compel people to travel to the Asian country.
“It will be on a voluntary basis ... that person will take up that offer or reject it, but they are not coming to Australia,” he said.