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Australian Politicians Want to Send Refugees to Canada, But They Haven't Told Canada Yet

A member of parliament for Australia's opposition center-left Labor party says Canada is the "obvious" choice for resettling refugees held in its offshore detention centers — and other government leaders and NGOs are supporting the idea.
Protesters demonstrate against offshore detention in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Ahmad Salem/Pacific Press)

A member of parliament for Australia's opposition center-left Labor party says Canada is the "obvious" choice for resettling refugees held in its offshore detention centers — and other government leaders and NGOs are supporting the idea. The only problem is that Canada has never even heard of the plan.

MP Anthony Albanese, who's fighting for his seat against the Australian Greens party in the upcoming federal election in July, made the remark this week on Australian television talkshow Q&A in response to a question from the audience about its policy on asylum seekers.

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It has become a hot topic this election as debate rages over the controversial offshore detention camps where Australia holds migrants. Two asylum seekers on Nauru island have set themselves on fire over the last two months to protest harsh living conditions and child abuse there. And in April, the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea ruled that the Australian-funded detention center on Manus Island is illegal and the refugees there must be relocated — but where they'll go is still unclear. Thousands of asylum seekers have attempted to reach Australia by boat, but it's against the law for it to accept any refugees who have arrived this way. Instead, they are either sent back home or held in one of the detention centers.

"Why should I vote for anyone but the Greens when the alternatives of Labor and the Coalition both support the cruel, essentially indefinite and UN-condemned, policies of offshore detention?" the audience member Nicola Dowse asked Albanese.

"I believe that you can be tough on people smugglers without being weak on humanity," Albanese replied. "People want hope. If you give them hope of going through orderly processes and being processed in Indonesia or Malaysia or in Afghanistan or Africa where they are without risking their lives, then you'll have a process that I think through the UN by engaging with the UN will produce far better outcomes."

He then skirted around the question, and was eventually interrupted by the show's host who pressed Albanese to get specific about a plan.

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Related: Canada Announces a $30 Billion Deficit and 10,000 More Syrian Refugees

"In terms of Manus and Nauru, the people who've been found to be refugees need to be resettled in third countries," Albanese continued. "Canada, I think, is an obvious one. New Zealand might be as well. But that would be up to the immigration minister of the day to negotiate those arrangements through."

However, when VICE News asked Canada's federal immigration department whether it would consider taking in the refugees, it seems to have never been approached with the matter.

"There is no discussion between IRCC and the Australian Government to resettle in Canada asylum seekers that are currently in Australia," said Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokesperson Félix Corriveau in an email.

The Canadian solution has nonetheless taken root in Australia, with Labor leader Bill Shorten showing support for the idea when he was asked by a reporter the following day whether he agreed with Albanese that Canada would be a good place to "send asylum seekers that Australia has locked up in offshore detention camps."

"In terms of Canada, it's an excellent settlement country and we would certainly make it a priority through the UNHCR, and other nations in our region, the timely resettlement of people in Manus and Nauru," said Shorten, who also praised Canada's recent resettlement of more than 25,000 Syrian refugees in less than a year.

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Then on Wednesday, non-profit group Save the Children, which provides care to children held in Nauru, joined the chorus saying in a media release entitled: "Canada must be on the table for people languishing in Manus and Nauru."

'Canada must be on the table for people languishing in Manus and Nauru.'

"The Australian government must be prepared to negotiate with countries like Canada as a potential permanent place of resettlement and protection for people who have fled persecution and conflict," the group says in the statement.

A spokesperson for Australia's current immigration minister, Peter Dutton, did not immediately reply to a request for comment from VICE News.

Dutton has come under fire for comments he made last week over claims that refugees "would be taking Australian jobs" or "languish in unemployment queues."

The Labor Party has pledged to double Australia's overall annual refugee intake quote to 27,000.

Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne