East Timor says it straight: no to asylum centre

EAST Timor's Deputy Prime Minister has rejected in the strongest terms yet Julia Gillard's plan for an asylum-seeker processing centre in Dili, saying it is not welcome and should be built in Australia.

The Gusmao government remained open to discussing Canberra's asylum-seeker concerns but a better plan for a processing centre would be to build it in Australia, Jose Luis Guterres told Portuguese wire service Lusa yesterday.

In a surprise announcement in July, the Prime Minister flagged plans for an offshore refugee processing centre in East Timor.

In Dili, the government appeared caught off guard, a concern exacerbated by Ms Gillard's confirmation the plan had been raised not with the country's Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmao, but the largely ceremonial head of state, President Jose Ramos-Horta.

Speaking in New York where he was attending a UN meeting, Mr Guterres said there were better places than East Timor to build an asylum-seeker centre. "Perhaps it would be better to do so in another place instead of Timor-Leste," he said. "Why not in Australia itself, which has an immense territory and available resources?"

East Timor shared Canberra's concerns about the asylum-seeker problem and expected the matter would be discussed at the next Bali Process forum dealing with the problem of illegal immigration, Mr Guterres said.

It was time the federal government accepted that a refugee processing centre was not wanted and would not be built in East Timor, federal opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop said last night.

"The Prime Minister must accept East Timor does not want an asylum-seeker centre -- this represents the last straw," she said.

With Christmas Island detention centre overflowing, the Gillard government is struggling to cope with the influx of mostly Afghan asylum-seekers.

Adverse security assessments against 700 Afghan refugee claimants mean they face deportation, sparking protests by the Hazara community in Australia.

Hazara spokesman Shoaib Doostizadah, a second-year aerospace engineering student at Melbourne's RMIT, accused the federal government of caving in to the opposition in wanting to sound tough on immigration.

source: The Australian

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