Boats carrying asylum seekers headed for Australia.Photo: The Associated Press
Australian Prime Minister-elect Tony Abbott had said during the campaign that he would stop the asylum boats from coming to the country's shores. On Monday, he called Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill that the incoming Coalition government commits to maintain the offshore processing system in Manus Island, also called Rape Island by male asylum seekers.
The change is policy just two days after winning the federal election on Sept 7 was explained by Mr Abbott who was critical of the offshore processing as salvaging what it could from the deal entered into by the outgoing Labor-led government.
Mr O'Neill is in favour of keeping the system because it involves $500 million in aid programme to PNG, although he said he is also open to a review of the arrangement by the incoming Australian administration.
"The resettlement program (asylum-seeker deal) and the infrastructure program associated with this, negotiated and agreed to with the government, was done with the Australian government, not a political party of individual," the PNG PM was quoted by The Australian.
"I would expect the incoming government to respect it," he said.
Since the Labor-led government declared in July 2013 that all future boat arrivals will be sent to PNG or Nauru and asylum seekers do not have any hope of being settled in Australia, four Iranians returned home in August, indicating that the policy is effective.
To date, there are 680 single adult male asylum-seekers held at Manus's Lombrum naval base, and some of them have complained of being sexually assaulted by fellow male wards.
Despite the policy, three boats recently arrived, with one of the boats including a pair of foreign journalists on assignment. The first boat with 88 people arrived on election night, the second with 59 people arrived Monday morning and the third on Monday afternoon.
The journalists on board the third boat, which left Indonesia to Christmas Island are Dutch photographer Joel Van Houdt and American journalist Luke Mogelson of the New York Times, tasked to document the experience of the asylum seekers.
The pair, since they are freelance contributors to the New York Times Magazine and have valid visas, was released by the Australian Federal Police. It was not the first time that the Dutch photographer had gone on such a risky assignment. In 2008, he joined asylum seekers from Morocco to Spain travel the Mediterranean Sea.