Australia/Tampa: UNHCR brokering 3-point plan
UNHCR is meeting this morning with representatives of Australia, Indonesia and Norway to propose a three-point plan aimed at resolving the impasse that has kept more than 450 people aboard a container ship off Christmas Island for some five days. New Zealand, which has also taken an active interest, is also attending.
The plan is the result of several informal contacts we've had with various parties over the past few days, and is aimed at breaking the deadlock and rapidly ending the increasingly desperate situation of the hundreds of men, women and children aboard the Norwegian vessel Tampa.
Assistant High Commissioner Søren Jessen-Petersen, who coordinated development of the plan, said the most immediate humanitarian need was to get the people off of the Tampa, which has no facilities for a large number of passengers. Thus, the plan would begin with:
- Temporary disembarkation for humanitarian reasons on Christmas Island;
- Immediate screening of asylum applicants, which, if requested, could be carried out by UNHCR screening teams using the same international standards we apply elsewhere in the world;
- Transfer to third countries, some of whom have already come forward to offer continued processing and/or resettlement. We've made a formal request to various countries to consider people for resettlement, including New Zealand and Norway, who have indicated they are ready to help. We are awaiting responses from other countries as well.
We'll have to await the response from the three most directly involved countries, but we are confident that this is the most logical way of resolving this extremely complicated episode.
We are, of course, also aware of the extremely generous offer made by an East Timorese official to take the ship and its passengers - a truly humanitarian response from a nation-in-the-making with few resources. However, the Tampa is now close to Christmas Island, the people have been aboard for far too long, and that island is the most logical place for them to go for the time being.
The High Commissioner, who is in Durban, South Africa, told us this morning that he is extremely grateful that some of the world's smaller and poorer nations have come forward with offers to help. He also noted that wealthier nations are responding as well, in a show of international burden-sharing reminiscent of the 1970s/80s Indochinese boat people rescues and resettlement programmes.
Mr. Lubbers also noted that in the longer term, there is a pressing need to address all of these issues at a broader political level, including the whole issue of long-distance trafficking of people through Southeast Asia, including Indonesia.