Refugees who make the harrowing journey by sea to Australia might want to think twice about that perilous voyage.
They won’t be allowed to settle if a new law gets passed. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has introduced a new piece of legislation that would prevent refugees and asylum-seekers from ever settling in the country if they came by boat.
The announcement, which has come three years after the prime minister vowed to close the door to refugees who were smuggled by boat, has been blasted as a “severe and entirely unnecessary step” by one humanitarian group.
‘Unflinching and unequivocal message’
At a press conference Sunday, Turnbull decided to send an “absolutely unflinching, unequivocal message” by proposing a ban on refugee settlements should they arrive by boat. He said the law would be fairer to refugees going through the visa application process.
“A generous humanitarian program, a harmonious multicultural society, depends on the Australian government being in control of its borders,” he said. ” And it depends on us sending a united and concerted answer to the people smugglers, that if they seek to bring people to Australia, those passengers will never settle in this country.”
Turnbull, who said his country already accepted thousands of refugees, said the policy would affect any asylum seekers taken to a regional processing facility in Nauru or Papua New Guinea since July 19, 2013. Asylum-seekers who tried to make it by boat to Australia under the age of 18 would be exempt from the policy.
Since 2012, refugees arriving in Australia by boat have been transferred to offshore centers in small Pacific nations such as Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, to make it clear they would not be settling in Australia.
Australian leaders have in the past defended the policy as necessary to stop people drowning at sea, despite multiple reports of abuses at the country’s offshore camps.
Turnbull urged Labor Leader Bill Shorten, the head of the opposition, to back the bill because of it is “entirely consistent with his party’s public stated position.”
Protecting borders or punishing refugees?
Amy Lamoin, the head of policy and advocacy for UNICEF Australia, blasted the Turnbull’s proposed ban in a statement Sunday as “not a reasonable, necessary or proportionate measure” and one that “squarely punishes refugees more than it creates a credible warning to people smugglers.”
Instead, Lamoin urged Turnbull to consider a regional approach to the resettling refugees that creates “safe migration pathway,” addresses the underlying causes for displacement and a sets up a victim-centered approach to dealing with refugees.
“It is difficult to see that the lifetime ban has a legitimate aim,” Lamoin said.