Prime Minister Julia Gillard has indicated that authorities on Christmas Island will be authorised to use force to make sure asylum seekers get on board aircraft taking them to Malaysia.
The first boatload of people to be processed under the asylum seeker swap deal with Malaysia arrived on Christmas Island this morning. It held 54 refugees – mainly Afghan, Iraqi and Iranian males – and two crew.
This morning, Ms Gillard said the Government would “do what was necessary” to make sure the asylum seekers obeyed orders and would not rule out using force to make children board the planes to Malaysia.
“Obeying instructions here is not a question of volunteering,” she said.
“People will be given an instruction to board a plane. We will be looking to people to obey that instruction. If it’s not obeyed then we have security personnel, we have the Australian Federal Police, we also have counsellors available to talk things through with people.
“We are determined to get this done. The Australian Federal Police can speak on operational matters, but we will do what is necessary to ensure that people who are taken to Malaysia under the agreement are taken.”
Ms Gillard said she was not in a position to discuss if there were any children on the recently processed boat, but would not rule out the use of force on minors, saying there could be no “blanket exemptions” for children.
She said there would be a “pre-assessment procedure” which could see some vulnerable asylum seekers not being sent to Malaysia.
But she stopped short of confirming reports that the AFP could be authorised to use tear gas and beanbag bullets, which have been used several times during disturbances on Christmas Island.
A spokesman for the Australian Federal Police has told ABC News Online that officers will be empowered to use “the same options” they can use on the mainland.
According to AFP documents, these include Tasers, batons, tear gas, capsicum spray and handcuffs – but the guidelines emphasise the use of force should be the “minimum force reasonably necessary”.
Christmas Island delays
Meanwhile, despite Government promises that new asylum seekers would spend only 72 hours on Christmas Island, delays in signing leases on detention centres in Kuala Lumpur mean the first boatloads may be on the island for more than a month.
”It could take as long as a number of weeks for the first boatload to go – after that all boats will adhere to the 72-hour turnaround time,” a spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said.
Ms Gillard conceded processing the first asylum seekers would “take some time”.
“I think it just stands to common sense that the first time you do something you learn along the way,” she said.
“And there are things that need to be done for that first time that then for the second time are more routine.
“When the system is up and in full operation those returns will happen in 72 hours.”
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