24 March 2007


Last month an Australian naval vessel intercepted a small boat carrying 83 Sri Lankans and took them to Christmas Island. After first apparently considering either returning the men to Sri Lanka or handing them over to Indonesia (either action would have been a contravention of the refugee convention) the Australian Government decided to send them to Nauru.

Refugee advocates have long criticised this ‘Pacific Solution’ as a fundamental violation of human rights. The consequence may well be that even if the 83 men are determined to be genuine refugees (as has been the case with the overwhelming majority of asylum seekers who have reached Australian waters) they are likely to languish indefinitely on Nauru.

This unjust treatment and lack of compassion extended to asylum seekers was recently justified by the newly appointed minister for immigration Kevin Andrews on the grounds that it would deter others.

Leaving aside the dubious morality of punishing the innocent in order to deter others, it is also worth remembering that whilst most developed countries typically receive 50,000 to 100,000 unauthorised arrivals each year, Australia’s geographic isolation means that the number of such arrivals is relatively small. Over the life of the current government it has averaged around 1000 per year. Hardly justification for one of the harshest ‘border protection’ regimes in the world.

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