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Australia’s prime minister, Tony Abbott, on Thursday emphatically rejected suggestions that any refugees fleeing Burma and Bangladesh could be resettled in Australia.
The comments come as Canberra pledged an additional AUD$6 million in humanitarian aid to Burma.
“Nope, nope, nope,” was the premier’s response when a reporter in Adelaide asked whether some of the thousands of boat people stranded in the Andaman Sea could be resettled in Australia.
“Australia will do absolutely nothing that gives any encouragement to anyone to think that they can get on a boat, that they can work with people smugglers to start a new life,” he continued. “I’m sorry. If you want to start a new life, you come through the front door, not through the back door.
“Don’t think that getting on a leaky boat at the behest of a people-smuggler is going to do you or your family any good.
“We are not going to do anything that will encourage people to get on boats. If we do the slightest thing to encourage people to get on the boats, this problem will get worse, not better.”
While Abbott was forcibly dissuading refugees from Australia’s shores, a US State Department spokeswoman remarked that the US is “prepared to take a leading role” in the refugee crisis, a comment that some news groups have jumped to presume will involve the resettling of some of the current wave of Rohingya refugees in the USA.
A day earlier, Indonesia and Malaysia agreed to provide shelter for up to one year to the estimated 7,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshi Muslims stranded at sea. Also, in a rather bizarre move on Wednesday, the government of Gambia, a small state in west Africa with a population of 1.9 million, offered to resettle all Rohingya refugees.
Meanwhile, Australia has pledged an additional AUD$6 million (US$4.75 million) in humanitarian assistance to Burma, just a week after it announced a AUD$28 million cut in aid to the Southeast Asian country.
The new aid package from Canberra was broken down as follows: AUD$2 million to the UN High Commission for Refugees to provide shelter for displaced people in Arakan and Kachin States, with a focus on protecting women and girls from harm; AUD$3 million to the World Food Programme, to provide emergency food assistance to vulnerable people across Burma; and AUD$1 million to the Burma Emergency Response Fund to respond to emerging humanitarian needs.
On 13 May, Australia announced it was cutting its entire international aid budget by 20 percent. While Papua New Guinea and the islands of the South Pacific were largely spared cuts, Burma saw its aid budget slashed from AUD$70 million to $42 million.
However, speaking to DVB on Wednesday, a spokesperson for Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said that the overall package would be considerably higher.
“Total Australian development assistance to Myanmar is expected to be around AUD$60 million in 2015-16, with a focus on education, economic growth and support to Myanmar’s reform process,” said Nick Cumpston, the development assistance counsellor at the Australian embassy in Rangoon. “The details of Australia’s aid program in Myanmar will be developed over coming months in consultation with the government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, INGOs [international nongovernmental organisations], local NGOs and other partners.”
Meanwhile, the cut in Canberra’s aid package to Burma should not affect the amount of humanitarian aid pledged to the more than 100,000 refugees sheltered at the Thai-Burmese border.
Duncan McArthur, the partnership director for The Border Consortium, which manages the distribution of relief supplies to the camps, said, “[Australian] aid to refugees along the border has been maintained at the same levels for the 2015-16 financial year courtesy of an exemption that was approved prior to the budget process. That means AUD$4 million will again be channelled to five NGOs to maintain basic support for refugees and prepare for potential return [to Burma].”