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Australia Offers Asylum Seekers Money to Return Home - 2002-05-23

The Australian Government is offering Afghan asylum seekers money as an incentive to return home. The offer is open to more than a 1,000 detainees held in camps in Nauru, Christmas Island and across Australia. Some refugee activists argue the deal amounts to bribery.

The Australian government's incentive for Afghans to voluntarily return home is $1,000 for individuals or $5,000 for a family. The package also includes airfares, counseling and vocational training.

Government officials consider Afghanistan safe for the refugees to return, in the aftermath of the defeat of the Taleban. Most arrived illegally in Australia by boat from Indonesia and have been detained in camps while their applications for asylum were processed.

The Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock is not predicting how many will take up the offer, but he expects the first repatriation by the end of the year.

The Labor opposition party, however, wants to know what will happen to those who refuse the offer. Labor's immigration spokeswoman Julia Gillard thinks the repatriation program will not solve Australia's problem with Afghan asylum seekers.

"The question today for Minister Ruddock is what happens to the rest, given he knows, and we know that he's not in a position to start forcing people to return to Afghanistan," Ms. Gillard said.

There are differing responses to the government's offer from refugee advocates. Simon O'Neill from the Refugee Action Collective calls it outrageous and said it puts undue pressure on people already under stress.

He described the offer as bribery on one hand and blackmail on the other.

At the Refugee Council of Australia, activists said that some of the refugees are from minority groups that still may face persecution at home. The activists said those refugees may refuse the money and opt to stay in Australia.