NICK BUTTERLY CANBERRA, The West Australian
November 2, 2010
Hundreds of Afghan asylum seekers could be deported to their homeland from as early as next year under a deal being brokered between the Gillard Government and Kabul.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen told _The West Australian _yesterday he hoped Australia could finalise the agreement with President Hamid Karzai “in a matter of months”.
This would allow immigration officials to begin returning Afghan boat people who failed to get a refugee visa.
The agreement would be between Kabul, Canberra and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The Australia-Afghanistan agreement would be modelled on an agreement between Kabul and Britain under which Britain deports about 90 Afghans a month.
More than half of the 5000-plus boat people who arrived this year were from Afghanistan and the Government believes returning some would be a strong deterrent to those considering making the risky sea journey to Australia.
The Government is becoming less inclined to grant refugee visas for boat people from Afghanistan but has been unable to return many because it has no diplomatic agreement to do so.
While any deal would relieve pressure on the Government over its handling of boat people, it would be likely to enrage some refugee advocates.
Mr Bowen was in Perth yesterday where he met WA Nationals leader Brendon Grylls to discuss building a detention centre at an old army base in Northam.
He also planned to meet WA Liberal Judi Moylan, whose Federal electorate of Pearce covers Northam, and shire leaders.
Local residents are furious at the Government’s plan to build the centre, which is set to hold 1500 male boat people, claiming it could be dangerous and will hit property values.
But Mr Bowen said he was determined the centre would go ahead, pointing out the Northam idea was originally suggested by WA Premier Colin Barnett.
“It’s an appropriate site for that number of people,” Mr Bowen said.
The Government would begin a mail-out to local residents in coming weeks as part of efforts to hose down concerns about property values and security.
Mr Bowen said he would not go to a public meeting about the centre in Northam on Thursday.