Labor to talk to UN on Timor Solution

Yuko Narushima
November 30, 2010 - 3:00AM

THE government is taking its Timor Solution to Geneva in an imminent bilateral meeting with the UN's top official on refugees.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen is scheduled to meet the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, in December.

The high-stakes meeting will be Mr Bowen's first chance to speak to Mr Guterres directly about Labor's plan to process Australia-bound asylum seekers in East Timor.

The UN has so far been lukewarm on the idea, saying regional co-operation had to complement national procedures and aim to protect refugees.

Yesterday, opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison was sceptical of what the meeting would achieve.

''These meetings will be used to continue to try to breathe political life into a proposal which is clearly going nowhere,'' Mr Morrison said.

''The proposal did not even rank in Julia Gillard's 2011 priorities, so it is dropping off the radar. I don't expect any great result from that except the issue of a press release from the minister saying that he met with the UNHCR to keep the dream alive.''

Mr Morrison is due to address the Lowy Institute today to outline the opposition's immigration priorities internationally.

Australia's focus should be on repatriation of asylum seekers to Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to support countries of first asylum to prevent onward travel to Australia, he said.

In the Asia Pacific, countries of first asylum include Indonesia and Malaysia, where asylum seekers go before attempting the journey to Australia.

''The key challenge is to thwart secondary movements and that is something that the regional processing centre will only encourage, not discourage and that's our biggest problem with it,'' Mr Morrison said.

The official Greens policy on any regional processing centre is to push to host it in Australia.

Mr Bowen's spokesman yesterday confirmed a meeting would take place soon after Mr Guterres's annual forum on global protection challenges, ending in Geneva on December 9.

''The main purpose of this meeting will be a discussion on the regional protection framework,'' the spokesman said. Other likely discussion topics are Australia's resettlement program and the source countries of asylum seekers.

A Canberra-based spokesman for the UNHCR said the organisation ''welcomed dialogue with Australia and all states in the region on co-operative approaches to refugees in the region''.

The Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees, Erika Feller, has said the key to successful regional arrangements was to share burdens and responsibilities across affected states.

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