Australian Immigration Minister Chris Bowen on Monday said he hoped to begin sending asylum seekers who arrive by boat to the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru later this week.
With Australia facing a record influx of asylum seekers arriving by sea, Canberra last month announced plans to send them to Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island in a policy aimed at stemming the flow.
Bowen said he would table a document in parliament later Monday designating Nauru as a regional processing country under the Migration Act so potential refugees could be sent to the small state to await their visa decision.
“Subject to both houses [of parliament] passing a resolution approving the designation, the designation will allow for the transfer of irregular maritime arrivals who arrived after 13 August to Nauru,” Bowen said.
Canberra announced its intention to transfer asylum seekers to Nauru and Papua New Guinea in mid-August as part of a tough new policy to deter them from paying people-smugglers to attempt the dangerous sea voyage.
Bowen said using Nauru would “discourage irregular and dangerous maritime voyages and thereby reduce the risk of the loss of life at sea.”
He would not comment on who would be part of the first transfer to Nauru or whether children would be sent but said that he hoped the first group would be transferred within days.
“Construction work on the temporary facility is nearing completion and the government expects to be able to begin transferring people to Nauru later this week,” Bowen said in a statement.
More than 300 asylum seekers have died en route to Australia this year, with vessels being intercepted by the navy on almost a daily basis.