Australian lower house has approved laws allowing offshore processing camps for asylum seekers to be re-established in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
The MPs passed a bill presented to parliament on Tuesday, following recommendations from an expert panel.
The bill now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to pass in coming days because both the governing Labor Party and the opposition back it.
Labor, under former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, closed the camps in 2008.
The debate on the legislation in the lower house lasted for six hours on Tuesday and continued the next day. Only two MPs – an independent and one from the Australian Greens party – voted against the bill.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen, speaking before the vote, said it was important that the bill pass.
“The Australian people expect no less and the people smugglers fear nothing more,” he said.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard – whose party had until Monday opposed the move – said on Tuesday that she hoped processing centres for asylum seekers could be reopened “within a month”.
The vote followed the release on Monday of a report by an expert panel appointed by Julia Gillard to break the deadlock on the issue of asylum.
It set out 22 recommendations aimed at tackling people-smuggling issues, including re-opening mothballed offshore processing centres.
Australian lower house has approved laws allowing offshore processing camps for asylum seekers to be re-established in Papua New Guinea and Nauru
The move comes amid rising numbers of asylum seekers travelling to Australia by boat from Indonesia.
Officials reported that at least three boats carrying more than 150 people were intercepted on Tuesday.
Australian officials say offshore processing is needed as a deterrent against making the perilous journey – pointing out that many lives have been lost in sinkings in recent years.
But critics say the policy – known as the Pacific Solution before it was scrapped in 2008 – violates asylum seekers’ rights.
In the past detainees on Nauru mounted multiple hunger strikes to protest against both conditions and the length of their detention.
Small protests against offshore processing have been reported outside immigration offices in Sydney and Melbourne.
Melissa Park, a Labor MP, earlier said that the measures being debated were “at the lower end of what we are capable of as a nation”.
“There are strong concerns about the devastating consequences, including severe mental health issues of detention of asylum seekers for indeterminate periods on Nauru and Manus Island,” she said.
The Pacific Solution was introduced in 2001 by the government of John Howard, in response to a reported rise in the number of asylum seekers arriving by boat.
Processing centres were set up on Nauru and on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, the governments of the two nations receiving millions of dollars in aid in exchange.
The Australian navy diverted all boats carrying asylum seekers to those camps, where many were detained for months – sometimes years – under high security.
Many Australians did support the policy but rights groups condemned it and accused Australia of failing to meet its obligations under refugee conventions.
• In 2010, there were 6,535 Irregular Maritime Arrivals (IMAs – people coming by sea) in 134 vessels
• In 2011, 4,565 IMAs arrived in 69 vessels
• As of 13 August 2012, 7,629 IMAs had arrived in 114 boats
• To date, July has been the busiest month, with 1,798 IMAs
• Most of the IMAs from 2009-2011 came from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Iran
• Some asylum-seekers arrive by plane. Between July 2010 and June 2011, 6,316 people applied in this way
Source: Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship
• Established in 2001 under conservative government of John Howard
• Asylum seekers arriving by boat detained in offshore centres in PNG and Nauru
• Rights groups criticized the conditions in which people were held, as detainees went on repeated hunger strikes
• Labor’s Kevin Rudd elected in November 2007, said Pacific Solution would end
Greek police has announced that more than 1,600 illegal immigrants will be deported following a major crackdown in Athens in recent days.
More than 6,000 people have been detained, though most were released.
Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias defended the crackdown. He said Greece’s economic plight meant it could not afford an “invasion of immigrants”.
He called the immigration issue a “bomb at the foundations of the society and of the state”.
“Unless we create the proper structure to handle immigration, then we will fall apart,” he said.
Greek police has announced that more than 1,600 illegal immigrants will be deported following a major crackdown in Athens in recent days
Some 88 illegal immigrants were sent back to Pakistan on Sunday.
The Greek authorities have increased the number of guards at the border with Turkey amid fears there may be a sudden influx of refugees entering Greek territory as the situation in Syria deteriorates.
More than 80% of migrants entering the European Union do so through Greece, which is in the grip of its worst recession in decades.
Some Greek politicians have called for the government to adopt a harder line on illegal immigration.
In the recent election, the far-right Golden Dawn party won enough votes to enter parliament.
Last week the party distributed free food to needy people outside the Greek parliament – but only if they proved they were Greek citizens and submitted important personal information including their blood type, the Greek newspaper Kathimerini reported.
Greece has frequently come under criticism for its handling of immigrants. Amnesty International accused it of treating asylum seekers like criminals and holding them in detention centres.
Greece has frequently called on other European nations to do more to help tackle illegal migration into the EU, arguing that it bears a disproportionate burden.
Rescuers are searching for dozens of people believed to be missing after a boat sank near Christmas Island, off north-western Australia.
Ships have so far picked 110 survivors from the sea, but officials believe about 200 people were on the boat. Three bodies have been recovered.
The ship, believed to be carrying asylum-seekers, capsized on Thursday.
Australian patrol vessels, merchant ships and aircraft have been helping with the rescue.
Christmas Island is closer to Indonesia than Australia, and is targeted by asylum-seekers hoping to get to Australia, often on boats that are over-loaded and poorly maintained.
Officials said the boat issued an emergency call and was later found to be in distress by an Australian surveillance plane.
Rescuers are searching for dozens of people believed to be missing after a boat sank near Christmas Island, off north-western Australia
“We’re still in that critical window where more lives could be saved,” Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said.
Everyone on board the boat was said to be male, with a 13-year-old boy among those rescued. Their nationalities remain unclear.
About 40 people were found clinging to the hull of the boat and more were found holding on to debris, Jason Clare said.
A spokeswoman from Australia’s Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said water temperatures were fair, which made finding more survivors more likely.
Those rescued have begun arriving at Christmas Island, where Australia has a large immigration detention centre. They were said to be in good health.
In recent years a flow of asylum-seekers, mainly from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Iraq, have been making their way to Australian territory by boat via Indonesia.
There have been a number of capsizes blamed on unseaworthy vessels carrying too many passengers.
About 50 asylum-seekers died when their boat broke up on rocks off Christmas Island in December 2010.
“This accident again underscores the dangerous nature of these hazardous journeys, and the desperate and dangerous measures people will resort to when they are fleeing persecution in their home countries,” the UN refugee agency said in a statement.