Labor's Pacific Solution overwhelmed

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has effectively conceded that Labor’s Pacific Solution Mark II has been overwhelmed, announcing that asylum seekers are arriving in such numbers that they will be allowed to live in the Australian community.

Mr Bowen said today that some asylum seekers who arrived in Australia after the Gillard government re-introduced offshore processing on August 13 would remain onshore, noting that asylum seekers could be waiting for up to five years for their claims to be processed.

He explained that people who arrive in Australia by boat would not be advantaged by receiveing a permanent visa before those who were already waiting for a visa in Australia or in the region.

Under the new scheme, asylum seekers who are released into the community could still be called back to Nauru or Manus Island if room becomes available, Mr Bowen said.

Announcing a raft of new measures to deal with the large numbers of boat arrivals, Mr Bowen said that some of those who arrived after August 13 would be given bridging visas.

About 7,000 people have arrived since the reintroduction of offshore processing in August this year, while the detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island have a capacity of about 2,000.

“Accordingly, some of these people will be processed in the Australian community. They will not however be issued with a permanent protection visa if found to be a refugee, until such time that they would have been resettled in Australia after being processed in our region,” Mr Bowen said.

Mr Bowen said that given the ‘‘no advantage’’ principle, people who were released into the community on bridging visas would not be able to work and would only received ‘‘basic’’ accommodation assistance and ''limited'' financial support.

‘‘It’s not a generous allocation but it's an appropriate allocation,’’ Mr Bowen told reporters in Sydney today.

The ‘‘no advantage’’ principle was recommended by the Houston expert panel in August, “to ensure that no benefit is gained through circumventing regular migration arrangements.”

Mr Bowen said that to cope with demand, the government would also expand onshore detention facilities. The Pontville detention facility in Tasmania will be reopened and capacity at the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation will grow by about 300 places.

The announcements come as the Immigration Department confirmed that the  federal government had begun transferring asylum seekers, including women and children, to Manus Island.

Mr Bowen said the first group involved seven families, including 15 adults and four children from Sri Lanka and Iran.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott told reporters in Perth on Wednesday that the government had ‘‘totally lost control of our borders.’’

He said the 19 people who had been transferred to Manus Island today did not compare to the more than 30,000 people who had arrived since Labor won government in 2007.

The Opposition Leader said he was ‘‘all in favour’’ of rigorous offshore processing but that if it was going to work, it had to involve all the people ‘‘who are coming illegally’’.

Mr Bowen also told reporters that a group of 100 Sri Lankan men has been sent home to Sri Lanka today. It is the ninth removal this month and the largest removal of Sri Lankans to date.

Since August 13, 525 Sri Lankans have returned home, both voluntarily and involuntarily.

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