SIDNEY – Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott has urged Europe to follow Australia’s hardline asylum policy and begin “turning back boats” as a way to stop drownings at sea and smash people-smuggling operations.
“It’s obviously a crisis right now on the borders of Europe,” Mr Abbott, Australia’s prime minister, said on Friday.
“I think a lot of people right around the world are looking at what we’ve done and said, ‘well, if Australia can stop the people-smuggling trade, if Australia can end deaths at sea, perhaps we can learn from them’.”
The comments were criticised by human rights advocates, who warn that Australia’s harsh policies force refugees to flee to countries less able to cope with a humanitarian crisis, violate human rights and undermine UN refugee conventions.
Mr Abbott was responding to publication of photographs of the body of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach, and chaotic scenes of migrants in Europe, which is struggling to deal with an influx of asylum seekers fleeing war-torn Syria.
“There is a humanitarian disaster taking place. It’s being driven by the security catastrophe which is the rise of this death cult in Syria and northern Iraq,” he said, referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as Isis. “And when it comes to border security, obviously, if you can stop illegal immigration one of the beneficial side effects is that you don’t have deaths at sea.”
This week Mr Abbott attracted criticism by saying Isis was worse than the Nazis ahead of a cabinet decision, expected next week, to extend a bombing campaign in Iraq into Syria.
Australia’s policy on asylum seekers and “boat people”, a term coined in the 1970s, has long been contentious. The previous Labor government said in 2013 that people arriving without a visa would be sent to Papua New Guinea or the tiny South Pacific island of Nauru to have their asylum claims assessed. Even successful claimants would be settled in PNG or Nauru under an agreement between the two countries.
By Jamie Smyth