Australia holds talks with E.Timor on refugee hub | world | Hindustan Times
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Australia holds talks with E.Timor on refugee hub

A proposed regional refugee centre in East Timor would be operational for a "very substantial period of time", Australia's immigration minister said today after talks with President Jose Ramos-Horta.

world Updated: Oct 12, 2010 12:09 IST

A proposed regional refugee centre in East Timor would be operational for a "very substantial period of time", Australia's immigration minister said on Tuesday after talks with President Jose Ramos-Horta.

Chris Bowen also said Australia and East Timor had agreed to set up a working group to study proposals for such a facility, which would be established according to United Nations standards. After the first round of direct negotiations on Australia's proposal, the two countries agreed to consult regional transit countries including Malaysia and Indonesia and develop a detailed plan by early next year.

"The president and I understand that if there is going to be a substantial investment it wouldn't be a short-term investment," Bowen told reporters at a joint press conference with Ramos-Horta in Dili. "I think the president has said very clearly that he would regard this centre as being here... for a very substantial period of time."

Ramos-Horta told AFP on Sunday that he would not accept a "permanent" detention centre for asylum applicants on East Timorese soil.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard is hoping to establish a regional hub to process the thousands of asylum seekers heading for Australia through Southeast Asian transit points.

About 100 of the boats, carrying more than 4,000 people, have arrived this year, stretching facilities to the limit and exacerbating a politically sensitive issue for Gillard's fragile, Labor-led coalition.

Many more undocumented migrants -- mainly from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran -- are caught as they transit through Indonesia and Malaysia before they make it onto a boat bound for Australia. Bowen will be discussing the issue in Indonesia and Malaysia later in the week.