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Govt urged to detail 'Costa Rica solution'

AAP logoAAP 21/09/2016 Belinda Tasker

Refugee advocates want the federal government to reveal details about plans to take in asylum seekers from Central America amid fresh calls for Australia to boost its overall humanitarian intake.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced Australia will resettle asylum seekers from a centre being set up in Costa Rica to help cope with a mass exodus of people fleeing poverty and violence in neighbouring countries.

However Mr Turnbull didn't say how many refugees Australia will take from the centre when he made the announcement during a summit hosted by US President Barack Obama in New York.

Labor and refugee advocacy groups want the government to spell out details about Australia's involvement the the US-led plan to resettle asylum seekers from Central America.

"The first question is what is the purpose of the program and will it provide protection to more people who urgently need it or is it a way for the US to put to the sideline people they could be helping themselves," Amnesty International Australia refugee campaigner Ming Yu Hah told AAP.

"It's great Australia is being part of a multilateral program but only if it's beneficial in terms of providing refugee protection."

Costa Rica agreed in July to house 200 vulnerable refugees while they waited to have their asylum applications processed by US officials. The asylum seekers are required to undergo a screening process in their home countries before entering the centre.

Tens of thousands of people began fleeing Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras in 2014 amid rising violence, poverty and organised crime.

Many flooded over the Mexican border and into the US, which was unprepared for the influx.

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said details about Australia's plans to take refugees from the centre were still to be negotiated.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten called on Mr Turnbull to spell out what, if any, discussions he had had with the US about "the Costa Rica solution".

Special Minister of State Scott Ryan told the ABC there would be no "people swap" involving Central American asylum seekers and those detained on Manus Island and Nauru.

Refugee Council of Australia president Phil Glendenning said Australia had a good record of resettling people from Central America, particularly El Salvador.

However he joined other refugee advocates in criticising Mr Turnbull for failing to do more to help the 2000 asylum seekers in detention on Manus Island and Nauru.

"It's the elephant in the room at the moment. The suffering there has to stop," he said.

The Refugee Council, Oxfam, Amnesty and the Human Rights Law Centre have also criticised Mr Turnbull for falling to seize the chance at the summit to boost Australia's humanitarian intake of refugees to about 30,000.

Mr Turnbull committed Australia to maintaining a pledge by his predecessor Tony Abbott to increase overall resettlement numbers from about 14,000 to almost 19,000 in two years.

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