Canberra said today it was considering a pilot programme to let citizens sponsor refugees to come to Australia,in order to stem the flow of boatpeople undertaking dangerous trips from Asia.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said Australia’s humanitarian refugee programme was under pressure,with the number of asylum claims far outstripping the 13,750 places available and many resorting to perilous sea journeys.
“Consequently,we will be seeking the community’s views on the feasibility of introducing a private sponsorship pilot programme,” Bowen said in a statement accompanying the government’s yearly budget.
“We are keen to see if we can build on the goodwill towards refugees that exists in the Australian community to develop such a programme.”
Though they come in relatively small numbers by global standards,the issue of asylum-seekers is a political flashpoint in Australia,dominating national elections in 2010 due to a record number of boat arrivals from Asia.
More than 2,500 boatpeople have arrived so far in 2012 more than double the number in the same period last year.
Indonesia is a common transit point for those trying to reach Australia,but the overloaded,rickety craft that set sail from it regularly fail to reach their final destination.
In December,a boat carrying around 250 mostly Afghan and Iranian asylum-seekers sank in Indonesian waters on its way to Australia’s Christmas Island,with only 47 surviving.
Arrivals have increased since Australia’s High Court struck down a proposed refugee swap with Malaysia,forcing Canberra to abandon offshore processing of asylum-seekers and release many to live in the community.
Bowen said the sponsorship programme was part of plans aimed at “eliminating the incentive for people to make the dangerous boat journey to Australia” so humanitarian visas could go to those “in greatest need”.
The government would seek comment on the feasibility of a sponsorship pilot in coming months from refugee advocacy groups and other agencies,he added.