SYDNEY, Australia – Australia has announced a hardline illegal immigration policy – probably the toughest in the Western world – and by doing so has set up a showdown with international law and human rights groups, earned the ire of major world associations, and drawn out the naysayers from the United Nations.
Last week, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that all asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat will be sent to Papua New Guinea for processing and resettlement and none will be allowed to stay in the country.
That’s none, as in not one.
That contrasts with the U.S. policy of lax border enforcement and casual deporting standards. In fact, President Obama is lobbying for a strategy that would “legalize” millions of illegal aliens who already are living in the U.S. and taking advantage of its social programs.
Rudd’s pre-election message is that Australia’s borders are closed to illegal arrivals. The announcement was made at a joint press conference with the prime minister from Papua New Guinea.
“From now on, any asylum seeker who arrives in Australia by boat will have no chance of being settled in Australia as a refugee,” Rudd told reporters.
This would be the equivalent of America sending all just-caught arriving illegals from now on to Bolivia, and stating that because of the circumstances under which they originally came, they will never have a chance to be settled in America.
“I understand that this is a very hard line decision,” Rudd continued.
“But our responsibility as a government is to ensure that we have a robust system of border security and orderly migration…”
In response to this announcement, a riot broke out at the Nauru detention center which houses illegal detainees, causing millions of dollars damage, destroying buildings in chaotic scenes said to be a reaction to a “cruel and degrading policy.”
The Australian move met widespread condemnation from left-of-center political and human rights groups.
Greens Leader Christine Milne said the resettlement plan was “ruthless and … repugnant.” Milne accused the prime minister of the Labor Party (the Australian equivalent of the Democrats) of political desperation, lurching so far to the political right he had leapfrogged the conservative party’s position.
“It is absolutely immoral for Australia, a rich country, to refuse to do the right thing and instead try and dump the problem, and to dump thousands of vulnerable people into an impoverished country,” Milne said.
There remain several questions about the PNG illegals deal’s compliance with international law. Rudd maintained he had spoken with UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon , and that the deal did not contravene UN conventions.
“The convention requires us not to send genuine refugees back to the countries they have fled from, and in this arrangement we honor that undertaking,” Rudd said.
But a statement from the United Nations high commissioner on refugees, the UN’s refugee agency, said they had not been involved in the deal and were currently seeking more information from the Australian government.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International Australia said the plan showed a complete disregard for asylum seekers and “absolute contempt” for Australia’s legal and moral obligations.
“This is beyond belief,” spokesman Graeme McGregor said in a statement.
“Mark this day in history as the day Australia decided to turn its back on the world’s most vulnerable people, closed the door and threw away the key.”
This was closely followed by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) , an auditing body, which said the deal “risks breaching Australia’s legal obligations.” There appears to be consensus among human right lawyers that the agreement will face strong legal challenge in the courts.
The conservative Opposition party, with a great tradition of secure Australian borders, and a proven record of stopping the boats, declared “there is a national emergency on our borders,” while launching their policy. At the moment, there are approximately 3,500 illegal arrivals by boat per month .
“A Coalition (conservative) government will establish a military-led response to combat people smuggling and to protect our borders – Operation Sovereign Borders,” said Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.
Much of the reason for the current problem with Australian illegal arrivals rests with Rudd, after he dismantled the previous conservative government’s border protection policies in 2008, after coming to office. Since that time more than 1,000 people have perished at sea, and almost 50,000 people have arrived on almost 800 illegal boats, with a budget blowout of over $10.3 billion. His strong policy announcement concerning PNG is widely seen as an attempt to atone for his actions, which carried devastating consequences.
Australians are predicted to head to the polls in October.