(CANBERRA, Australia) — The Australian government said Wednesday it would reopen a mothballed island detention camp in anticipation of a new wave of asylum seekers arriving by boat after Parliament passed legislation that would give sick asylum seekers easier access to mainland hospitals.
The Christmas Island immigration detention camp, south of Jakarta, Indonesia, was a favorite target of people smugglers who brought asylum seekers from Asia, Africa and the Middle East in rickety boats from Indonesian ports before the trade virtually stopped in recent years.
The decision was made before the Senate passed legislation 36 votes to 34 that would allow doctors instead of bureaucrats to decide which asylum seekers on camps on the Pacific island nations of Papua New Guinea and Nauru can fly to Australia for hospital treatment.
The policy banishes asylum seekers who attempt to reach Australia by boat to the Pacific island camps in a bid to deter other asylum seekers from making the perilous voyage.
The legislation demonstrates the government’s weak hold on power and will put asylum seeker policy at the forefront of campaigning ahead of elections that Morrison wants to hold in May.
Australian security agencies warned in December that if those amendments became law, asylum seekers would likely head to Australia again in significant numbers.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten on Tuesday re-drafted the amendments passed by the Senate in December in an attempt to make the law less likely to attract a new wave of asylum seekers, who used to arrive in Australia at a rate of more than a boat a day.
The government had similarly made the offer only available to refugees on the islands at the time to avoid attracting new asylum seekers, Shorten said.
Medical evacuations have become a loophole in Australia’s policy of exiling asylum seekers who arrive by boat.
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