Drowned Syrian boy shows need to stop boats: Australian PM
Heart-breaking images of a Syrian toddler washed up on a Turkish beach were a reminder of the need to stop people-smuggling boats, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Friday, as he stood firm on Canberra’s hardline immigration policies.
Photographs of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi lying dead on the sand as Europe grapples with its worst refugee crisis since World War II showed the “evil” nature of people-smuggling, Abbott said.
Australia’s conservative government introduced a military-led operation to turn back boats carrying asylum-seekers attempting to arrive on the mainland after it came to power in September 2013.
“It was an absolutely heart-rending photograph and I don’t think any parent could see that photograph without being devastated,” the Australian leader told reporters in Wodonga south of Canberra.
“I know that there has been quite a bit of interest in the policies that Australia has put in place, because if you do stop the people-smuggling trade… obviously you end the deaths at sea.
“The most compassionate thing you can do in the medium and long-term is to close down this evil trade.”
Under Australia’s immigration policy, asylum-seekers that arrive are sent to the Pacific islands of Nauru and Papua New Guinea to be processed and denied resettlement in Australia even if they are found to be refugees.
Canberra has declared the policy a success, despite criticism from rights groups, and in August marked a year since the last successful boat arrival, adding that 20 vessels carrying 633 asylum-seekers have been turned back since 2013.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton hit back at a Thursday editorial in The New York Times newspaper criticising Australia’s boat policies, saying at least 1,200 people died trying to reach his nation by boats between 2008 and 2013 under the previous Labor government.
He said Australians had been horrified by the deaths of some 50 asylum-seekers in December 2010 when their rickety boat shattered in huge seas by Christmas Island off Australia’s northern coast.
“No responsible government could stand idly by in the face of these repeated tragedies,” Dutton said in a statement.
“Our policies are lawful. They are safe. And they work. They save lives.”
Abbott added that a call by Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce to boost the number of Syrian refugees his nation takes in was already in place after Australia last year said it would resettle 2,200 Iraqis and 2,200 Syrians fleeing violence.
“It’s precisely because we have got much better border controls in place, we’ve established much better border security that we are in a position to increase our refugee and humanitarian intake,” the prime minister said.
According to Australia’s parliamentary library, 1,007 Syrians were granted offshore refugee and humanitarian visas last year out of a total of 11,016 visas granted.