Australia defends refugee policy after boat surge
SYDNEY: Canberra insisted on Monday that a new deterrent
policy of locking up refugees on remote Pacific islands was working
despite a weekend surge in arrivals and self-harm attempts among
More than 500 asylum-seekers arrived in Australia on people-smuggling
boats at the weekend, taking the total arrivals since the government
unveiled its Pacific detention policy in August to some 4,500.
That number easily overwhelms capacity at the spartan centres on
Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, which combined can only hold
about 2,000. The conservative opposition said the latest influx showed
that the policy, which has been criticised by the United Nation’s
refugee agency and human rights groups, was not having a deterrent
But Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said stemming the record flow of
boats was a tough task and progress was being made, with a number of Sri
Lankan asylum-seekers opting to return home instead of being sent to
“There’s no doubt that there is wide awareness now of our new
policies and that they are being noted,” Bowen told ABC radio.
“However, as I’ve consistently said, we have a very significant
challenge in that we are tackling the lies and the spin of
people-smugglers.” Bowen said the Pacific centres were one plank of a
comprehensive set of measures including a so-called “people swap” with
Malaysia. The policy was struck down by Australia’s High Court last year
on legal grounds but the government are hopeful of resurrecting it.
“Nauru by itself is not an effective deterrent,” he said. “I’ve
consistently made the point that this is a very complex undertaking
which will take time and full resolve to have its full impact.” Bowen
said there had been two self-harm incidents on Nauru in recent days as
well as a peaceful protest at the immigration centre involving about 200
“We have people who do not want to be on Nauru and we are managing a
difficult situation there,” he said.
According to refugee activists, one Iranian man attempted to kill
himself and was found “turning blue” last week after learning it would
be at least eight months before his visa claims were even looked at.
Though they arrive in relatively small numbers by global standards
refugees are a controversial issue in Australia, dominating national
elections in 2010.
More than 12,000 asylum-seekers have arrived by boat so far this
year, double the previous annual record, and the government hopes the
prospect of Pacific detention will deter people from paying smugglers