Australia to send refugees from Manus Island to Philippines in $150m deal

The Federal Government is in final negotiations to send refugees from Manus Island to the Philippines, in a deal worth around $150 million.

It is understood be part of a far broader Strategic Partnership Agreement now under discussion with the 100 million-strong Philippines, south-east Asia’s fifth largest economy, which would also cover trade issues and a deeper security alliance.

The agreement is the fruits of months of diplomatic door knocking by Australian officials in the region, who have been desperate to find a solution to the increasingly politically problematic detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru.

Both camps have gained notoriety for poor living conditions, with the killing of asylum seeker Reza Berati on Manus and accusations of rape and child abuse on Nauru.

News Corp understands that Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was given a verbal assurance by her Filipino counterpart Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert Del Rosario that the refugee deal would go ahead, at a meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York last week.

In comments to News Corp, Ms Bishop confirmed that she had held talks on refugee issues with Mr Del Rosario in New York but declined to reveal details of any agreements.

“The governments of Australia and the Philippines have long cooperated on irregular migration, people smuggling and human trafficking,” Ms Bishop said. “These issues are important to both countries, and to the region.”

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Talks with the Philippines began in mid August, according to a senior official in the international refugee aid sector, and three meetings were held in the capital Manila in the lead up to the meeting of the foreign ministers last week.

President Aquino said on September 8 that the Philippines was open to taking in refugees, with some reservations.

“The culture is there, but we want to make sure that we manage it properly, that we don’t take more than we can handle,” he said.

In initial talks Australia is understood to have offered the Philippines $30 million per year over five years, a total of $150 million but the final figure remains unclear.

There are also concerns that resettled refugees may attempt once more to use boats to try to reach wealthier nations such as Australia.