Just say ‘no’ to illegal immigrants. If that means using military force, so be it. That is the only way the EU can stem the human tide now flooding across the Mediterranean seeking an escape from the failing states of northern and sub-Saharan Africa.
Speaking in the Australian capital Canberra, the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has today urged the EU to end the crisis by stopping any illegal boat approaching Europe’s shores and turning it around and sending it straight back to its starting point.
Outlining his views on preventing the deaths in the Mediterranean Sea, Abbott told reporters: “We have got hundreds, maybe thousands of people drowning in the attempts to get from Africa to Europe.
“The only way you can stop the deaths is in fact to stop the boats.”
Abbott speaks from experience. At the last Australian election in 2013 he went to the polls promising to ‘stop the boats’ traveling from Indonesia to the Australian mainland, full of economic migrants who had started their journey in places as far apart as Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Iraq.
Abbott’s tough policy meant that if the intending migrants’ countries of origin could not be established to enable them to be sent straight home, those on board were sent to offshore processing camps in the Pacific islands of Papua New Guinea and Nauru. The Australian Navy was used for the operation called Sovereign Borders which saw hundreds of boats returned to Indonesia.
People traffickers who sank the boats and tried to call for assistance were instead given a lifeboat – provided by the navy – and the passengers loaded aboard before they were towed back into Indonesian waters.
Those who refused were taken aboard navy ships and sent for processing in centres outside Australian sovereign territory. Every smuggler’s boat was the destroyed by naval gunfire.
Before the policy was introduced, boats were arriving in Australian waters almost daily with hundreds of people drowning en route. But over the past 18 months there have been virtually no asylum-seeker boat arrivals and no reported deaths at sea.
Just this past week HMAS Choules, a navy transport ship, docked in Vietnam carrying hundreds of illegal immigrants being sent back to their port of origin after being rejected for entry into Australia.
“We must resolve to stop this terrible problem and the only way you can stop the deaths is to stop the people-smuggling trade,” Abbott said.
“That’s why it is so urgent that the countries of Europe adopt very strong policies that will end the people-smuggling trade across the Mediterranean,” he added.
The Abbott policy attracted criticism from the opposition Australian Labor Party and those on the political left, but it worked. People trafficking gangs were put out of business and deaths at sea ended.
The policy has been slammed by the United Nations and human rights advocates who say it violates the 1951 Refugee Convention of which Australia is a signatory.
The offshore processing of asylum-seekers has also faced criticism over the camps’ conditions and the lengthy processing times.
One of the architects of Australia’s uncompromising border policies, retired army major-general Jim Molan, said the crisis in Europe is due to ‘incompetent policy reaction’. He could also have added the total lack of political will within the EU to do anything but welcome immigrants ashore – no matter that it simply encourage more to try with increasingly deadly consequences.
Writing in The Australian newspaper this morning, Molan said the tragedies in the Mediterranean were “worsened by Europe’s refusal to learn from its own mistakes and from the efforts of others who have handled similar problems”.
He added: “Destroying the criminal people-smugglers was the centre of gravity of our border control policies, and judicious boat turn backs was the key.”
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop described the weekend shipwrecks off Libya as a tragedy of horrendous proportions and said Australia would be happy to discuss its border protection policies with European countries struggling with an influx of asylum seekers.
“We know that about 1,200 people died trying to get to Australia via the people smuggling trade and we were determined to put an end to that, and we have done so,” she said.
“We have managed to stop the flow of people via the people smuggling trade but we have to be ever vigilant. So we are happy to share our experiences.
“We’re concerned to share the details of the legislation that we put in place, the actions that we’ve taken, the policies that we have, but each country will obviously have to deal with this on a national basis and often on a regional basis.”
Countries have a moral obligation to control their borders. So the Abbott solution to that end is simple. Turn back the boats – using force if necessary – and send a message that only an orderly migration system can be used to allow entry to the EU.
That will save lives. It will put people smugglers out of business. It will end the daily death toll we are now witnessing in the Mediterranean.