Australia renews push for regional immigration centre

SYDNEY, October 8, 2010 (AFP) – Australia will urge Indonesia, Malaysia and East Timor to back its proposal for a regional centre to process asylum-seekers during talks next week, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said Friday. Bowen, who will leave Monday for Dili to begin high-level discussions on people-smuggling and border security in the three countries, said he had already had encouraging feedback from neighbouring countries.

“I won’t be returning next week with a final deal, but I do intend to be progressing our arrangements for our regional processing framework with our regional neighbours,” he said.

Thousands of asylum-seekers, many fleeing the conflict zones of Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, have been intercepted en route to Australia from Southeast Asian transit points this year.

Australia processes asylum applicants at its remote Indian Ocean centre on Christmas Island, but Prime Minister Julia Gillard has suggested East Timor could become a regional immigration hub.

The idea initially received a cool reception in Dili, and Bowen said Friday the concept would only work within the framework of broader cooperation.

“An offshore processing centre without a regional framework is not the solu