United States President Donald Trump tweeted on Thursday morning that “much can be learned” from Australia’s hardline immigration policy.
- Mr Trump is facing an immigration crisis on the border with Mexico
- Refugee advocates argue Operation Sovereign Borders has been a failure
- Figures show thousands of people arriving by plane in Australia to seek asylum
But refugee advocates argue the scheme has been a failure and innocent people have paid the price.
Under Operation Sovereign Borders, starting in 2013, the Australian Government sought to reduce the number of asylum seeker boat arrivals.
The arrivals have slowed, but the policy has cost billions of dollars, and recent figures show thousands of people are arriving by plane to seek asylum.
Facing his own immigration crisis on the border with Mexico, which is back in focus this week after a photo emerged of a father and daughter who drowned in an attempt to cross the Rio Grande, Mr Trump tweeted his support for Australia’s response.
Although the Labor Party has at times opposed parts of Operation Sovereign Borders, the policy now has bipartisan support.
“Labor strongly supports Operation Sovereign Borders including boat turnbacks where safe to do, offshore processing and regional resettlement to ensure that we disrupt and stop the evil people smugglers’ trade,” Labor’s Home Affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally said.
Greens senator Nick McKim said Mr Trump’s tweet was “mortifying in the extreme” and innocent people on Manus Island and Nauru were paying the price for the policy.
“We should be horrified that one of our most shameful polices is being applauded by one of the world’s cruellest leaders,” he said.
“Australia’s major parties wrote the book on cruelty to innocent refugees, and the contagion is spreading around the world.”
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and Immigration Minister David Coleman declined to comment.
Refugee advocates argue Sovereign Borders a failure
In late 2013, more than 200 asylum seekers per month were arriving in Australia by boat.
This route to Australia was extremely dangerous, and hundreds had drowned attempting the crossing between Australia and Indonesia.
Operation Sovereign Borders increased patrols in the region and turned boats back to Indonesia. The Government blocked access to Australia for those who travelled by boat, and arrivals were sent to Manus Island and Nauru.
Hundreds of asylum seekers remain in legal limbo on these islands and advocates argue the plan has been a failure.
“Australia’s harsh policies have come at a terrible cost: 12 people have died; women, men and children have endured enormous mental and physical harm; Australia’s reputation has been tarnished and all this has cost us more than $5 billion,” Refugee Council of Australia communications director Kelly Nicholls said.
“Far from being something to learn from, as President Trump suggests, Australia’s policy for people seeking asylum should be a cautionary tale of what not to do.”
Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition argued there was “nothing to be learned”.
“The ‘Australian solution’ relies on the undermining of international refugee conventions, the systematic violation of human rights, the indefinite detention of refugees and conditions akin to torture in offshore detention camps,” he said.
‘We don’t have people drowning on planes coming in to Australia’
While thousands of people are arriving in Australia by air each year then seeking protection, Mr Dutton said last week that this was preferable to a large number of boat arrivals.
He said 64,000 people had arrived by air and subsequently applied for protection between July 2014 and June 2018, and over the same period, 7,600 were granted a protection visa.
“… You’ve got a situation where we can return those people back, but 7,600 people over that three or four year period — give me a break — and that’s a different prospect that if you’ve got somebody coming without travel documents, without a passport, without a valid visa or worse case you’ve got somebody who then drowns at sea,” he said at a press conference in Sydney last week.
“We don’t have people drowning on planes coming in to Australia.”
Under medical evacuation legislation passed by Parliament last year without the support of the Government, a report from an independent panel into conditions on Australia’s offshore immigration facilities is due to be published next week.
It promises to be the best independent assessment of conditions provided so far.
“I expect the Government to table that report as they were required by law to do,” Labor senator Kristina Keneally said this week.
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