The first group of asylum seekers to be sent to Nauru will be escorted by scores of Australian Federal Police in an overt show of muscle to ensure the transfer goes smoothly.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen confirmed yesterday the first boat people would likely be sent to Nauru this week as the Gillard Government rolls out its hard-line offshore processing regime.
It is understood the first group to be sent to the remote Pacific Island will be a small group of 50 or 60 relatively passive young men.
They will be escorted on a chartered plane by 80 police and met by private security guards on Nauru.
Mr Bowen yesterday signed the order designating Nauru as a regional processing centre and announced close to $50 million worth of contracts to provide security, logistics and health services for transferred asylum seekers.
He also said the Salvation Army had agreed to provide counselling and humanitarian services on Nauru. But although the charity has agreed to an involvement in the arrangement, it has warned it holds serious fears about the effect long-term detention on Nauru will have on detainees.
"While the Salvation Army remains gravely concerned about the potential impact of offshore processing on the wellbeing and mental health of asylum seekers, our primary concern is to provide the best possible care in these circumstances," Salvation Army spokesman Major Paul Moulds said.
Shadow immigration minister Scott Morrison said asylum seekers should not be allowed to set foot on Australian soil and should instead be shipped directly to Nauru on interception.
But asked how many ships it would take to enact such a policy, given Nauru was a distant destination, Mr Morrison said such issues were "matters which we will address in government if we're elected".Mr Bowen said it made no difference whether asylum seekers set foot on Australian soil because, under the Migration Act, if they were intercepted in an offshore place, their legal basis did not change.
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