Australia has marked a full year without a “successful people smuggling venture” Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said yesterday. The policy is not without its critics, but some European politicians are beginning to look on it as a blueprint for the Mediterranean migrant crisis.
Deutsche Welle reports Dutton was announcing that the border control reforms of December 2013 – Operation Sovereign Borders – have led to turning back 20 boats, preventing at least 633 people “from arriving in our country.” He continued:
“The fact that today we celebrate that we have not had a successful people smuggling venture in a year, and that over the course of the last 18 months or so we have turned back 20 boats and stopped 633 people from arriving in our country, is a significant achievement…
“…We have a very clear policy in place and that is that people who seek to come to our country by boat illegally will not settle in our country.”
Dutton reiterated his government’s firm belief that had the migrant boats not been prevented from landing, hundreds or thousands more would have followed. In turn Prime Minister Tony Abbott has continued to defend the ‘turn-back policy’ for asylum seekers in the face of some domestic and much international criticism.
Reporting to the United Nations Human Rights Council in March, Juan Mendez, that body’s Special Rapporteur on Torture, said aspects of Australian policy violate the UN Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. On that occasion the Sydney Morning Herald reports Abbott responded:
“I really think Australians are sick of being lectured to by the United Nations, particularly given that we have stopped the boats, and by stopping the boats, we have ended the deaths at sea.”
“The most humanitarian, the most decent, the most compassionate thing you can do is stop these boats because hundreds, we think about 1200 in fact, drowned at sea during the flourishing of the people smuggling trade under the former government.”
Abbott’s 2013 election victory was partly due to his stance on asylum seekers. Talking of those policies he says the best thing the Australian government could do to “uphold the universal decencies of mankind” was to stop boat arrivals, “and that’s exactly what we’ve done.”
It is a lesson which Europe’s leaders are yet to learn, but in the light of recent events off Italy they may be forced to do so.