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CANBERRA

Australia closes the door on illegal boat people and human smugglers

Australia is planning to ban all illegal boat migrants from ever entering the country. The country already has a strict refugee policy, and these measures would represent an even tougher immigration stance. Canberra insisted that the tough policy was aimed at preventing migrant deaths at sea.

Published: October 30, 2016, 3:45 pm

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    On Sunday the Australian government announced that it would seek to amend the Migration Act, making it impossible for asylum seekers who have attempted to reach the their shores illegally by boat since 2013 entering, even on legitimate visas.

    “The door to Australia is closed to those who seek to come here by boat with a people smuggler,” conservative Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters in Sydney.

    “It is closed,” he repeated, adding it will “send the strongest possible signal to the people smugglers”.

    He insisted the bill, to be introduced to parliament sits next week, reflected the bipartisan position backed by Labor that asylum-seekers sent to Manus Island or Nauru will never be permanently settled in Australia. Both parties established that refugees who arrived by boat from Indonesian ports after a certain date, were banned from ever being resettled in Australia, even if found to have a genuine claim.

    It would toughen up the already strict immigration policy introduced by a Labor government in July 2013, because under the new legislation, even the thousands of asylum seekers who have returned home to the Middle East, Africa and Asia would be banned from ever traveling to Australia, even on a legitimate tourist or business visa, or as an Australian’s spouse.

    “This is a battle of will between the Australian people, represented by its government, and the criminal gangs of people-smugglers,” Turnbull said.

    “You should not underestimate the scale of the threat. These people-smugglers are the worst criminals imaginable. They have a multibillion-dollar business.

    “We have to be very determined to say no to their criminal plans.”

    turnbull

    Malcolm Turnbull, Flikr

    Turnbull reflected on Labour’s “failure” to implement strong border controls as he announced the introduction of the legislation to “prevent irregular maritime arrivals hair loss taken to a regional processing country from making a valid application for an Australian visa”.

    Currently, Australia sends all migrants arriving illegally to offshore processing centres on the Pacific islands of Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus. The boatpeople in these centres have three choices: to return home, make a life on the islands, or go to a third country.

    The hardline policy has resulted in there being no asylum seekers delivered to Australia by a boat smuggling operation since July 2014. However, human rights groups allege that it violates the United Nations Refugee Convention.

    Turnbull also said the measure would maintain Australia’s humanitarian aid. “We have some of the most generous humanitarian programs in the world,” he said on Sunday. “But the only reason we can do it, the only reason it has the public acceptance that it does, is because we are in command of our borders.”

    Immigration minister Peter Dutton said the government wanted to deliver “the clearest possible message” to asylum-seekers on Nauru and Manus Island that “Australia is not an option for you” because there were still people smugglers and refugees advocates telling them they could settle here “at some stage”.

    “It is very difficult when people smugglers are messaging them, when we have advocates here messaging them saying ‘don’t accept packages, eventually you’ll come to Australia’,” Dutton said.

    “We cannot offer false hope to them.”

    Only children will be exempt, and Dutton indicated that some adults might also be exempted on a case-to-case basis.

    Australia has welcomed 18,750 refugees in recent years, and has also agreed to take 12,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq.

    Since the start of “Operation Sovereign Borders” in September 2013, the conservative government has halted the influx of boat arrivals as well as drownings.

    karin@praag.org

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