What can EU learn from Australia?

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY MARTIN PARRY

As Europe strug­gles to deal with a surge in mi­grants pour­ing across the Mediter­ranean, Australia has gone nearly 18 months with vir­tu­ally no asy­lum-seeker boat ar­rivals and no deaths at sea.

But ob­servers warn that Australia’s hotly con­tested pol­icy of turn­ing back boats of­fers no model for the Euro­pean Union, ar­gu­ing it is immoral and prob­a­bly il­le­gal un­der both EU and in­ter­na­tional law.

Pres­sure on the EU to tackle its mount­ing cri­sis has es­ca­lated af­ter more than 700 peo­ple were feared drowned when an over­crowded boat cap­sized off Libya at the week­end, with calls for a spe­cial sum­mit.

But can it learn any lessons from Australia? Im­mi­gra­tion Min­is­ter Peter Dut­ton on Mon­day said he would not be lec­tur­ing Europe on what to do.

“That is an is­sue for those gov­ern­ments, not for us to pro­vide ad­vice on,” he said.

But he added: “The lessons we’ve taken is that the turn­backs (of boats), where safe to do so, has worked.”

Soon af­ter

it came to power in Septem­ber 2013, Australia’s con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment launched the mil­i­tary-led Op­er­a­tion Sovereign Bor­ders to halt a flood of boat­peo­ple ar­riv­ing al­most daily un­der the pre­vi­ous La­bor ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Un­der the new pol­icy, navy ships in­ter­cept boats car­ry­ing asyl um- seek­ers and turn them back to where they tran­sited from, mostly In­done­sia, or send those on board to off­shore pro­cess­ing cen­ters in Pa­pua New Guinea and Nauru in the Pa­cific.

Even if proven to be gen­uine refugees, they are de­nied re­set­tle­ment in Australia and left with the op­tion of ei­ther re­turn­ing home or living in PNG, Nauru, or even im­pov­er­ished Cam­bo­dia, un­der bi­lat­eral agree­ments.

There have been no deaths at sea en route to Australia for 17 months, af­ter some 1,200 per­ished un­der the pre­vi­ous La­bor poli­cies, Dut­ton said.

But refugee and rights ad­vo­cates say the cur­rent pol­icy has sim­ply shifted the re­spon­si­bil­ity to other coun­tries.

“The gov­ern­ment is claim­ing victory but the re­al­ity is that boats not ar­riv­ing doesn’t mean that they are be­ing stopped,” Jane McA­dam, an ex­pert in in­ter­na­tional refugee law at the Uni­ver­sity of New South Wales, told AFP.

“It is sim­ply push­ing the prob­lem onto other coun­tries. Boats will con­tinue to come as long as the root causes of dis­place­ment re­main un­re­solved.”

Des­per­ate Sit­u­a­tion

The mi­grant wave head­ing to Europe, mostly through Italy, has swelled on the back of the wors­en­ing se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion in Libya — the stag­ing post for most of the cross­ings — and the EU is look­ing at ways to re­spond.

EU in­te­rior min­is­ters have broached the pos­si­bil­ity of set­ting up asy­lum-pro­cess­ing fa­cil­i­ties in third coun­tries as a way to deal with the flood of peo­ple flee­ing con­flict in the Mid­dle East and North Africa.

Many of the mi­grants head­ing to EU shores are in any case not claim­ing asy­lum, but hop­ing to melt into the black-mar­ket work­force.

And t he third- coun­try op­tion is un­der­mined by chaos in many nearby na­tions, while oth­ers are rife with hu­man rights abuses.

McA­dam said that at any rate, the Aus­tralian model was flawed and not ap­pli­ca­ble to the EU.

“Australia is not part of any re­gional hu­man rights sys­tem and some of what it is do­ing would be ruled il­le­gal un­der the Euro­pean Con­ven­tion on Hu­man Rights,” she said.

The Aus­tralian op­er­a­tion has been slammed by the United Na­tions, which says Can­berra has flouted obligations as a sig­na­tory to the 1951 Refugee Con­ven­tion to en­sure peo­ple can ac­cess asy­lum.

Can­berra has also been heav­ily crit­i­cized over ev­i­dence of abuse at its off­shore detention camps, and for keep­ing chil­dren locked up.

Hu­man Rights Watch Australia direc­tor Elaine Pear­son told AFP it would be dis­as­trous if the EU adopted sim­i­lar off­shore pro­cess­ing and started turn­ing back boats.

“Part of the prob­lem is the EU is not pro­vid­ing enough re­set­tle­ment places given the scale of the prob­lem,” she said, adding that the Aus­tralian model of off­shore pro­cess­ing was “im­prac­ti­cal and cruel and in­hu­mane by lock­ing peo­ple up in iso­lated dis­mal con­di­tions.”

“It may be ef­fec­tive in di­vert­ing the prob­lem onto other coun­tries but it fails to ad­dress the fact that peo­ple need to flee per­se­cu­tion and go some­where.”

Australia will not re­veal how many boats it has turned back, cit­ing op­er­a­tional se­cu­rity.

The EU cur­rently only runs a limited search-and-res­cue in­ter­cep­tion op­er­a­tion in the Mediter­ranean. A pre­vi­ous one was scaled back af­ter Italy failed to per­suade its Euro­pean part­ners to help meet the grow­ing op­er­at­ing costs.

There were also di­vi­sions over whether the res­cues were en­cour­ag­ing mi­grants to at­tempt the cross­ing.

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