Scholarly article on topic 'Australia's ‘Pacific Solution’: Issues for the Pacific Islands'

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Asia & the Pacific Policy Studies
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Academic research paper on topic "Australia's ‘Pacific Solution’: Issues for the Pacific Islands"


Australian National 1 University

Australian Government

Asia & the Pacific Policy Studies, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 337-348 doi: 10.1002/app5.32

Original Article

Australia's 'Pacific Solution': Issues for the Pacific Islands

Aulden Warbrooke*


In 2013, the Rudd Labor Government introduced a new version of the 'Pacific Solution' to Australia's 'problem' with increasing numbers of asylum-seekers arriving by boat. The new version not only included the transfer of asylum-seekers to Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, it crucially involved the resettlement in these Pacific Island countries of those found to be refugees and introduces long-term detention for those who are not successful and who do not decide to return to their original countries. Following the 2013 election, the Abbott Coalition Government fully embraced the new 'Pacific Solution'. This deeper level of incorporation of Papua New Guinea and Nauru in Australia's asylum-seeker policy raises a range of issues not only for these two Pacific Island countries but also for the broader Pacific islands region whose name is invoked in the 'Pacific Solution'.

Key words: 'Pacific Solution', refugees, asylum-seekers, Australia, Pacific

* School of Government, Development and International Affairs, The University of the South Pacific, Laucala Campus Suva, Fiji Islands; email <awarbrooke@>.

1. Introduction

It is not often that Australia neglects to consult or even inform Pacific Island states on major decisions affecting the Pacific region. But that is what happened in August of 2012 when the Gillard Labor Government announced the reintroduction of the 'Pacific Solution' to Australia's asylum-seeker 'problem'. Like the first version of the 'Pacific Solution' introduced by the Howard Government in 2001, asylum-seekers arriving by boat were to be sent to processing centres in Manus Island in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Nauru. Then in July 2013, a new Rudd Labor Government introduced a new version of the Pacific Solution that significantly increased the implications for Papua New Guinea and Nauru, and for the Pacific Islands region more broadly. This involved not only the transfer of all asylum-seekers who came to Australia by boat for processing in Nauru and Papua New Guinea but it also stipulated that all asylum-seekers who were found to be refugees would be settled in Nauru or Papua New Guinea and that those who were not found to be refugees would stay in detention in these countries unless other alternatives could be found outside Australia. Under these new 'Regional Resettlement Arrangements', there is no upper limit on numbers who might be sent to PNG or Nauru. After the national election in September 2013, the new Abbott Coalition Government embraced this policy fully. Indeed, the new Government has already shifted several hundred asylum-seekers to Manus Island and Nauru. By January 2014, there were 867

© 2014 The Author. Asia and the Pacific Policy Studies published by Wiley Publishing Asia Pty Ltd and Crawford School of Public Policy at The Australian National University. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited and is not used for

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asylum-seekers in the Nauru centre and 1259 in the Manus Island Centre, with 2107 in Australia's Christmas Island waiting to be transferred to Nauru and Papua New Guinea (Australian Customs and Border Protection Media 2014).

Under this latest version of the policy, Nauru and Papua New Guinea have shifted from being the providers of centres for short-term detention and processing of claims to providers of long-term settlement and detention. Both sides of politics in Australia have made it very clear that they will not allow any asylum-seekers held in Nauru and Papua New Guinea to come to Australia (unlike the earlier version of the Pacific Solution policy where over 70% were ultimately settled in Australia). This transfer of responsibility obviously raises significant issues for the human rights and welfare of the asylum-seekers and important questions about the legality and ethics of Australia's policy (hrw 2012; Van Onselen 2013). While such issues have been well covered in recent commentary, there has not been the same level of attention focused on the implications for the particular Pacific Island countries that have been incorporated into this Australian policy or for the broader Pacific Islands region in whose name the 'Pacific Solution' is being promoted. This article therefore examines the key procedural, legal, security and social-cultural issues for the Pacific Islands that are raised by this new version of the 'Pacific Solution'.

2. Procedural Issues

A first set of issues concerns the way in which the Australian Governments have negotiated and represented this new policy. While legal agreements were freely entered into by the sovereign governments of Nauru and Papua New Guinea, there was no time given for proper consideration of the implications for these countries and for public comment. The rushed agreement was driven by a Rudd Labour Government in campaign mode desperate to outflank the Liberal Party on the asylum-seeker question.

In the eyes of the wider Pacific community, the designation 'Pacific Solution' is disingenuous and misleading. Declaring this policy to be a 'Pacific Solution' and using the phrase 'Regional Settlement Arrangement' suggests that an extensive consultative process was undertaken between the Australian government and Pacific Island leaders, and that a collective decision was made for a Pacific regional approach to the issue of asylum-seekers. This was not the case. In fact, the Australian government did not attempt to initiate a collective consultation process or even confer with Pacific leaders ahead of announcing its plans. For Solomon Islands Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo, speaking at the inaugural Pacific Islands Development Forum in Nadi in 2013:

the Pacific Solution has to be discussed broadly with all the Pacific Leaders. You cannot invent something in Australia and say that is a Pacific Solution. That's wrong but more fundamentally [sic] the choice of asylum seekers. They made a choice to go to Australia, not to go to Papua New Guinea, Nauru or Solomons (PacNews 2013, para.8).

Similarly, Fiji's Foreign Affairs Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, in a speech to the Australia Fiji Business Forum in Brisbane on 30th of July, stated that: 'The Australian government has used its economic muscle to persuade one of our Melanesian governments to accept thousands of people who are not Pacific Islanders, a great number of them permanently. . .. This was done without any consultation, a sudden and unilateral announcement, which is not the Pacific Way and has shocked a great many people in the region' (Fiji Sun 2013). For Ratu Inoke Kubuabola (2013), the lack of regional consultation on Australia's Pacific Solution policy does not merely raise the issue of diplomatic courtesy given the region-wide claim in its naming. The extension of the Pacific Solution policy to one of 'Regional resettlement' under the agreement with Papua New Guinea also has significant implications for the wider Melanesian region. This arises, he argues, because the Melanesian Spearhead Group is negotiating the formation

of a Melanesian Common Market 'where asylum seekers, if settled in one member, could have the right to live and work in other member countries' (Fiji Sun 2013). In his view, the Pacific Solution arrangements with PNG and Nauru clearly have possible implications for the wider Pacific region.

The former General Secretary Pacific Council of Churches, Feiloakitau Tevi agreed, stating that the revamped Pacific Solution could have dire repercussions for all Pacific states. He went on to say that Australia should 'process asylum-seekers in Canberra' (Tevi KF 2013, personal communication). In a similar vein, former Fiji Foreign Minister, Kaliopate Tavola indicated that Australia is simply 'transferring their responsibilities again' (Tavola K 2013, personal communication). Fiji economist Professor Biman Prasad stated that the Pacific Solution arrangement is more about asserting 'Australia's agenda, political posturing and winning over voters, rather than an authentic solution for asylum seekers' (Prasad B 2013, personal communication).

3. Legal Issues

A second set of issues arise in relation to Australia's transfer of its legal responsibilities onto Nauru and PNG. The suggestion that assessing refugee claims in Nauru and Manus Island fully satisfies Australia's obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention is not as clear cut, as the Australian government likes to suggest. However, claiming that Australia has failed completely in fulfilling its international refugee obligations is also untrue. One of the key reasons for this has to do with the ambiguous, limited and rather confusing nature of stipulations currently contained in the 1951 Refugee Convention (Phuong 2013). For instance, as it stands the 1951 Refugee Convention does not make mention of any duty to grant asylum. Signatories to the convention often argue this point indicating that it is a state right rather than a duty to grant asylum. This right usually follows from their sovereign right to control admission into their territory.

While there is no obligation under international law to grant asylum to refugees, states are still bound by the principle of non-refoulement. According to article 33 of the 1951 Refugee Convention, the concept of non-refoulement stipulates that asylum-seekers— who meet the definition for refugee status— cannot be returned to a country where their life or freedom is threatened. This is regardless of how they arrive and whether they arrive with or without a visa (Australian Human Rights Commission 2005). Australia's agreements with Nauru and Papua New Guinea also include a non-refoulement undertaking for each party (Taylor 2005). Nauru and PNG are now equally responsible for the fate of the asylum-seekers. Although this may be true theoretically, in practice, Australia has a very strong influence over the end result.

More importantly, under the principle of non-refoulement, bona fide refugees will have a right to stay in Nauru and PNG indefinitely, unless resettlement in another country can be arranged. This is, however, a very long and drawn out process. It should be noted that the principle of non-refoulement is not limited to those formally recognised as refugees. In other words, asylum-seekers are also protected under the principle of non-refoulement until they are declared not to be refugees (Phuong 2013). From an international legal perspective, the responsibilities of PNG and Nauru also extend to human rights obligations. This means that both countries, now being party to the 'Pacific Solution', are legally bound and will be scrutinised more closely by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other human rights organisations. Paradoxically, neither country is party to all three human rights treaties, namely the United Nations Convention against Torture, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Convention of Economic and Social and Cultural Rights (UN 2014). Neverthelesss, PNG and Nauru may be expected to act responsibly in upholding these rights in accordance with customary international law. For Nauru and PNG, this could lead to them being pressured by the international community into designing

and implementing policies and frameworks that are in direct contradiction to their position on certain international human rights treaties. In fact, UNHCR has already formally recommended that PNG proceed to lift its seven reservations to the 1951 Refugee Convention (UNHCR 2013).

The legal debate about 'transferred responsibility' to PNG and Nauru is not new. In the early 1990s, an increasing number of states transferred responsibility for examining asylum-seekers to 'safe third countries'. Under the 1951 Refugee Convention, there remains no clear obligation for any signatory member to process claims of asylum in the country of application (Phuong 2013). Technically speaking, Australia has no legal obligation to process asylum-seekers on its mainland. It can also be argued that processing asylum-seekers in 'safe third countries' does not violate the laws of refoulement. However, the crux of the issue obviously lies in the definition of 'safety'. Under international law, this definition encompasses two fundamental elements. This should include a minimum physical safety and protection of human rights, and a guarantee of access to fair asylum procedures (Australian Human Rights Commission 2005).

UNHCR undertook a mission to Manus Island on 15-17 January 2013 to assess how Australia and Papua New Guinea were implementing their obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention. The findings were mostly negative and reflected poorly on PNG, just as much as Australia. For instance, part of the UNHCR findings states:

Assessed as a whole, the current arrangements between PNG and Australia for the transfer of asylum-seekers to unsatisfactory temporary facilities, within a closed detention setting, and in the absence of a legal framework and functional system to assess refugee claims, do not currently meet the required international protection standards (UNHCR 2013, p. 2).

The UNHCR report (2013, p.1) suggests that Australia—and by implication Nauru and PNG—could be in breach of their legal obligations to asylum-seekers:

the delays and uncertainty surrounding the commencement of the refugee status determination process are 'inconsistent with the primary and, arguably, sole purpose of transfer from Australia to the Assessment Centre on Manus Island, namely, to identify whether a transferee is a refugee in need of protection under Australia and PNG's obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention'.

UNHCR has recommended that both Manus and Nauru Island processing centres be made open centres, with freedom of movement in line with international law, unless there is a compelling and legitimate reason against it. In theory, this sounds plausible; however, asylum-seekers taken by Australia into PNG and Nauru are admitted into these countries under the condition that they would not leave the processing centres other than on supervised excursions (UNHCR 2013). On a separate note, because the detention centres are physically located in Nauru and PNG, and are run by a third party, it can be argued that the detainees are fundamentally Nauru's and PNG's responsibilities.

In fact, in 2003 and 2013, residents at the Nauru processing centres started a hunger strike and rioted. On both occasions, the Nauruan police with the support of the public were left with the responsibility of defusing the situation. In the case of the 2003 hunger strike, Australia's Attorney General took the public position that this was Nauru's problem to deal with (Taylor 2005). On the other hand, the Nauruan President refuted this view, saying it was Australia's problem. In considering both sides, the UNCHR concluded that both Nauru and Australia were equally responsible (Taylor 2005). Similarly, in the case of the 2013 riots, the then Australia Minister for Immigration, Tony Burke, said that the 119 men involved with burning down the centres would be tried and charged under Nauru Law (Sydney Morning Herald 2013).

Trafficking in humans is another issue that Nauru and PNG are legally liable for should asylum-seekers decide to take them to court. According to international law 'trafficking in persons' shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt

of persons, by means of the threat or use of force. ... or of the giving or receiving of payments' (Sheperd 2013, para. 8). The argument here is that both governments are receiving large payments from Australia for the transfer and detaining of people against their will. Like Australia, other nations such as the UK, Italy and Kenya have tried transferring asylum-seekers to smaller countries, but their attempts failed (Sheperd 2013). The courts upheld that these countries would in fact be guilty of human trafficking especially where countries have lesser living standards.

4. Socio-Cultural Issues

The Regional Resettlement Arrangement also has the potential to destabilise the already delicate social and economic balance in Pacific Island societies. The permanent settlement of relatively large numbers of refugees within PNG and Nauru could have a very significant effect on the social fabric of these societies. The most obvious, and perhaps the most concerning, are the socio-cultural assimilation challenges that are bound to occur between asylum-seekers and Pacific Islanders. The key point here is that the settlement group is very different culturally from the resident population, and its members would be attempting to assimilate in a context of customary land ownership and in the case of Nauru, very limited space.

Based on the composition of the groups of asylum-seekers already held in detention in Nauru and on Manus Island and waiting for transfer from Christmas Islands, those who qualify for refugee status and therefore residence are mainly fleeing from countries in the South and West Asian region (Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection 2013). People from this part of the world have very different religious, cultural, social, economic, educational and language backgrounds from the Pacific Island communities in which they would settle under the Resettlement Arrangement. The idea that 'richness through diversity' encourages better growth may be true in some situations, but in a Pacific context, these socio-cultural differ-

ences are perceived more as barriers that hinder social stability. For instance, language and cultural barriers can lead to miscommuni-cation at one level, but on a deeper level can lead to racism, ethnocentrism and xenophobia (Dev 2001). These cultural conditions are increasingly prevalent among developing nations especially where existing ethnic rivalries are virulent (Dev 2001).

Fiji's experiences with ethnic tensions in previous years illustrate this point. In 2001, the leader of the Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei Party, Filipe Bole, while referring to the post-coup environment, reminded Australia that 'Fiji had its own internal refugee problem that had to be sorted out before it could accommodate refugee processing centres for other countries' (Fry 2001, p. 3). In a stronger tone, the Tui Levuka and Lomaiviti province senator Ratu Kolinio Rokotuinaceva stated:

We shouldn't forget how the Girmits were brought to Fiji by the British. They were brought here solely to cut cane and when that was done the British did not take them all back. We should consider those who may be born here during the application processing period. They will probably become citizens according to their birth rights in this country. What then? We have enough problems to deal with now (Pacific Islands Report 2001, p. 1).

Echoing these strong sentiments, Ba Provincial leader Ratu Josaia Duacia said, 'this government should seriously consider the concerns of the Fijians who voted them in and not just look at the short term monetary gain. It is better not to allow them in than regret it later' (Pacific Islands Report 2001, p. 2). He also warned landowners that giving up their land for the refugees is like inviting 'a herd of elephants' who would only push them out later (Pacific Islands Report 2001, p. 1). According to Dev (2001), this sort of resentment by host communities could be expressed towards asylum-seekers and refugees.

Ethnic rivalry and anti-immigrant sentiments are certainly not isolated to Fiji. In recent years, there has been an influx of tens of thousands of Chinese migrants to the Pacific.

For some locals, this infusion has been hard to accept. In Nukualofa 2006, amid simmering anti-Asian sentiment, 30 Chinese-owned stores were fire-bombed and looted (Mercer 2007). In the same year, Chinese commercial centres in Honiara suffered a similar fate. More recently in 2009, hundreds of PNG men and boys burnt and looted Asian-owned firms in PNG's two largest cities—where unemployment has reached 80% (BBC 2009). These clashes have forced some Asian migrants to abandon their Pacific homes and return to Asia.

The unrest and resentment felt towards immigrants can be said to be a result of a combination of factors; however, in this particular case, the resentment is directly related to the perceived wealth of the Asians against the impoverished nature of the South Pacific Islands. At this point, it is unclear whether refugees from Manus Island and Nauru will be entitled to the same benefits as refugees receive in Australia; however, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees has warned that settling subsidised asylum-seekers in PNG under the deal could cause some resentment from locals who are already at a significant disadvantage and thus potentially leading to instability (Hodge 2013). This point is especially significant considering the high unemployment rates, the lack and/or unavailability of social benefits, and the low wage levels that exist in PNG and most other Pacific Islands.

Another key issue to consider is how the Pacific Solution may threaten Pacific Island identity. In this context, increased tensions can occur if the ethnic balance of the host country is threatened or even perceived to be threatened, especially if the influx is sizable (Dev 2001). In the case of Nauru, this is a distinct possibility considering that its population is less than 10,000 and that no limits have been set on the number of asylum-seekers being settled. A significant change in the ethnic balance is likely to pose a threat to the cultural values and norms of the nation. For example, Nauru is perceived as a traditionally matriarchal society where women are treated with a high level of respect and exer-

cise considerable power (Packett 1971, p. 7). By contrast, asylum-seekers being integrated into the Pacific Islands come from societies with quite different attitudes towards the role and status of women. In the absence of efforts to encourage cultural sensitivity, such differences could lead to misunderstandings that in turn could increase tension between communities. As Greg Sheridan, the Foreign Editor of The Australian newspaper put it, 'Imagine what the South Pacific would be like in five or six years' time if there were 50,000 resettled refugees in PNG, and perhaps 10,000 in Vanuatu, 5,000 in Solomon Islands and a few thousands elsewhere in the Pacific. These refugees would be Iranians, Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis, Palestinians, perhaps some Sudanese and Somalis, and . . . This population would constitute a recipe for social instability and a significant security problem for the region' (Tabureguci 2013, para.17).

The 'Pacific Solution' is likely to put further stress on PNG and Nauru's limited resources. It creates additional problems for countries already dealing with poverty, crime and violence, substance abuse, the breakdown of traditional social structures, the increase of informal housing (squatters and slums), the increase of the informal sector due to unemployment, solid and liquid waste management problems, land shortages and tenure problems, low incomes, and poor nutritional health (Mohanty M 2013, personal communication). As Taylor (2005, p. 32) puts it, Australia is using 'its economic power to dump its problems on its extremely poor, politically unstable and socially vulnerable neighbours, without any thought for the damage that it might cause'.

PNG and Nauru lack national policies and capacities to ease the absorption of these new settlers—they do not have core programs on refugee integration and lack standardised sets of cultural adjustment programs such as the English language and communications training, nor do they have adequate refugee support groups or facilities to assist refugees to become economically self-sufficient. The governments of PNG and Nauru governments will face significant costs administering the

resettlement of new refugees and are likely to need additional assistance in meeting these costs, in addition to the assistance being allocated to run processing centres. This could further complicate the aid relationship between Australia and these countries.

5. Security Issues

The Pacific Solution also poses significant security issues for the local communities on Manus and Nauru. Within months of Manus being reopened under the new Pacific Solution the local community was already experiencing problems caused by Australians working in these detention centres. In one case, an off-duty G4S security guard had harassed females travelling on public motor vehicles to and from the Lombrum Naval base (Fiji Times 2013). In an interview with National News, Prime Minister Peter O'Neil stated, 'That centre is a permanent one and not a one off thing, the sooner the expatriates realize that they are part of the community, they have to work closely with the communities' (Fiji Times 2013, p. 18). In February 2014, a much more serious security problem occurred at the Manus centre. In this instance, one asylum-seeker was killed, and at least 77 were wounded. Although full details are yet to be revealed, it is thought that this riot is the result of a series of 'rolling protests' that started when refugees were told they could never be resettled in Australia and that even their resettlement in Papua New Guinea was unsure (Maley & Callick 2014). The involvement of the PNG police, the locally engaged security staff and community members is under investigation.

In the case of Nauru, the security threat to the local community is even more serious. First, the numbers of intended detainees is very high relative to the total Nauru population. Australia is planning to construct a tent camp that is capable of hosting up to 5,000 asylum-seekers (i.e. half of Nauru's current population) (News 2013). Second, Nauru is a very small island country, and although the camp is on top of the island, it is only a short distance to all other communities on the island.

In this case, the local community is in fact also the national community, and a threat to its safety as a group is a national security issue. Third, Nauru has a very small police force and simply does not have the capacity to cope with a concerted break-out of the detention camp in large numbers.

These dangers were all too clearly demonstrated on 19 July 2013 when an overwhelmed and under-resourced Nauru police service failed to manage the riots that broke out in the detention centre. These riots that caused $60 million in damages and burnt down 80% of the buildings in the camp were instigated after Australia announced its 'hardline policy' that boatpeople will no longer be resettled in Australia but instead would be resettled in PNG and Nauru. Reportedly between 150 and 200 detainees escaped from the centre. To help curtail the security threat and ensure public safety, acting President David Adeang issued an emergency decree enabling private security forces and others to respond to the riots (AJJ News 2013). Subsequently, over 1,000 local Nauruan men carrying machetes and steel pipes arrived to help police prevent the asylum-seekers from breaking out (The Guardian 2013b).

Local photographer and eye witness, Clint Deidenang, said, 'Today was history. The biggest riot ever to be staged on Nauru soil. The most violence I've seen' (Aljazeera 2013, para.10). Since the riots, locals have expressed concerns about the safety of having asylum-seekers within the community. For instance, local resident Mr Uera said, 'We don't know what they're like—from that incident we can only tell that they are dangerous' (McLeish 2013, para.16). Similarly, another local resident, Eimynora Ageg, stated, 'People are scared because we haven't come up with those kinds of behaviours or things like that happening in our homeland, all I worry is for the safety of the kids, because Nauru is very free and everyone knows each other' (McLeish 2013, p. 19). Although the Nauruan government is assuring the community that it will be family groups and unaccompanied minors who will be resettled on the island, locals are still fearful about by Pacific Solution resettlement policy.

Added to their fears for personal safety, Nauru citizens are becoming increasingly concerned for their economic security. For instance, since the re-opening of the processing centres, rent and food prices have increased, water supply has become limited, and travelling to Nauru itself has become more difficult (Leiden Law 2013). These factors can be said to be a direct link to the increase of Australian and foreign workers in Nauru. Additionally, while the unemployment rate in Nauru is estimated at 90%, the detention centre mostly employs Australian nationals (Leiden Law 2013). For most Nauru locals, this was a chance for them to benefit from the economic activities offered through the processing centre. From this perspective, it can be said that the Pacific Solution policy is making life in Nauru more expensive but at the same time not creating enough employment for locals (Leiden Law 2013).

PNG is facing a similar dilemma. According to Manus MP, Ronny Knight, locals are missing out on business opportunities despite embracing the processing centres. He said the local hospitality businesses on Manus Island had practically depleted overnight, when the Australian immigration department hired a floating accommodation barge for detention centre staff (Fiji Times 2013). The barge is expected to house up to 635 immigration staff, security workers and building contractors. And it contains a central kitchen and dining facilities, recreational facilities, laundry facilities and bedsit style accommodation (The Guardian 2013a). Outraged that local business were losing out and that local people had not been able to tender for contracts at the asylum centres, tribal leaders led a demonstration against this unfairness. This demonstration quickly turned into a 'code grey'—major disturbance—security alert whereby local police responded in a 'heavy-handed' way, with 'weapons drawn' (The Guardian 2013a). Subsequently, some locals were injured and Australian staff was ready to evacuate. More recently on February 16th, violent rioting also broke out in Papua New Guinea's Manus Island detention centre. The chaos left an Iranian national dead and 12 others seriously

injured. Manus Island Governor Charlie Benjamin made it clear that Manus Island will not welcome asylum-seekers as permanent settlers, saying that the Pacific Solution had become 'unpopular' among island residents, especially after the riots (Whyte 2014, para.8). Also concerned about the threat of climate change and rising sea levels Mr Benjamin said, 'In Manus asylum seekers will only be processed____They will not be resettled in Manus.

... We are prepared to process, but we are not prepared to accommodate them. . . . The government's problem is how we can settle these people on the islands if they go underwater. That is our main concern' (Whyte 2014, para.3). Also concerned about the increased violence and protection of asylum-seekers, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is calling for a review of PNG offshore processing.

The longer term security implications of the resettlement of those accepted as refugees in PNG and Nauru, and of long-term detention for those found not to be refugees, are necessarily more difficult to assess. There are several key unknowns. First, we cannot be certain that the PNG and Nauru Governments will continue to sign the annual resettlement agreement given the opposition to it in these countries. A change of government in Papua New Guinea or Nauru could change the support for the scheme especially if there are continued security threats and economic tensions of the kind already experienced. Second, it is not clear whether the Australian Government's policies will deter, or decrease, the numbers seeking to come to Australia by boat, and therefore, the numbers transferred to the Pacific centres. There has been an initial success in turning back the boats, but there is the question of its sustainability given the impact on Australia's relations with Indonesia. However, based on the Regional Resettlement Agreements and subsequent endorsement by leaders of PNG and Nauru, the intention is that unlike the earlier 'Pacific Solution', the Australian Government will not be taking any of those found to be refugees. The agreement specifically states that they will be resettled in Nauru and PNG unless a third country can be

found. This means that many of the 4,000 currently in the three island camps as at February 2014 will in all likelihood be staying in Nauru and PNG. This is the stated intention of the agreement. And because the Agreements place no cap on numbers, there is potential for more refugees to be resettled in PNG and Nauru.

It is therefore reasonable to mention two potential security implications of settling these refugees in PNG and Nauru. First, given the possibility of a relatively large number of settlers proportionate to the local population in Nauru, some tensions between the established local communities and the incoming group could lead to internal security problems. Even for a much larger PNG, the customary land tenure system and clan system means that a few thousand settlers would be very visible. Tradition and customs, particularly religion, is of great importance for both groups; however, the infusion in a single community with strongly opposing belief systems and vastly different identities will be particularly challenging, especially where politics and religion are closely intertwined.

Second, there is a real possibility that the introduction of a substantial group of settlers from South West Asia into PNG and Nauru could affect the security perception of the Pacific on the part of Australian Governments. There is very little likelihood that asylum-seekers would be linked to terrorism. Australian human rights and other advocacy groups continue to remind doubters that the perpetrators of the September 11 attackers did not arrive in the United States as asylum-seekers. They flew into the US using valid papers. The Australian intelligence community seems to back this position indicating that 'there remains no evidence that any asylum-seekers currently arriving by boat have any connection to terrorism' (Edmund Rice Centre 2013). Of the 13,000 that sought asylum in Australia in 2012, only one was 'red-flagged' and deported for possible links to terrorist groups. The key argument here is that asylum-seekers are more likely to be fleeing from terrorism.

However, it is not so long ago that an Australian Government was linking asylum-seekers to potential terrorists and, in the

context of the war on terror, seeing the Pacific island states as potential terrorist havens. Thus, it is not farfetched to suggest that the existence of substantial numbers of South West Asian settlers in PNG and Nauru could influence views in Australia and other countries about security risks in the Pacific. This could have a range of political and economic consequences for the Pacific islands.

In this context, there is a risk that a lack of a carefully considered attitude towards the impact of resettlement in the Pacific of people from locations often linked to terrorism could impact negatively on the Pacific. There exists a real possibility of a security agenda becoming more entrenched in Pacific socio-cultural and socio-political life and its relations with the rest of the world. Although the Australian intelligence service may have dismissed suggestions that 'asylum-seekers are terrorists', the fear for Pacific states now is that the Australian government may take a different attitude in the future.

6. Conclusion

The Pacific Solution does not help the Pacific states to become more independent and free of political, economic and social instability. In fact, it has all the prospects of compounding PNG's and Nauru's problems. From the outset in 2001, the 'Pacific Solution' has always deal designed to address a domestic problem in Australia. The leaders of PNG and Nauru may have agreed to this policy, but they appear to have done so without considering all of the potential consequences. As Taylor (2005, p. 33) argues in relation to the earlier 'Pacific Solution', the Government of Nauru 'did not factor in the social and political costs.... They did not, because they could not. Both governments were too desperate for money and too dependent on Australia's continued patronage to bargain with the Australian government on equal terms'.

The heightened tensions and deteriorating relations between Indonesia and Australia in relation to the Abbott Government's 'turn back the boats policy' have only made matters worse. Indonesia's President Yudhoyono has declared

that he was freezing military and intelligence cooperation with Australia, including areas such as people-smuggling, intelligence exercises and intelligence sharing (Rt News 2013). With Abbott's 'push back-buy back' policies seriously hampered, people smugglers may use this opportunity to their advantage. For the Pacific Islands, this could mean a greater influx of asylum-seeker numbers being processed and settled on their shores.

The Australian government strategy to deter illegal boat arrivals clearly involves presenting the Pacific Islands as an unattractive place to settle in. This negative imagery is projected in two ways—outwards to the asylum-seekers and inwards to the Pacific region. The 'Pacific Solution' policy may be portrayed within Australia as being simply concerned with deterring asylum-seekers, but it sends terrible signals about Australian attitudes towards the Pacific and fundamentally changes the nature of Australia's relationship with Pacific island states. Pacific leaders cannot afford to have a myopic attitude to issues that can have serious repercussions not only on their societies but on their sovereignty—a vital aspect of Pacific society that has long been tainted by neo-colonial agendas. Pacific leaders need to be provident and work collectively when negotiating any further developments in Australia's 'Pacific Solution'. If this is not done, the Pacific island nations will continue to be overly influenced by foreign policies that marginalise, weaken and divide the Pacific region.

May 2014.

The author would like to acknowledge the helpful suggestions and comments of Greg Fry and Sandra Tarte on the draft of this paper, not forgetting the Pacific International Relations Forum Committee (PIRF).


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