Tony Abbott tells Europe to 'stop the boats' like Australia as migrant crisis continues

Australia's policy of returning migrants to Indonesia has been criticised

Lizzie Dearden
Tuesday 21 April 2015 17:09 BST
Tony Abbott would see Europe simply 'stop the boats'
Tony Abbott would see Europe simply 'stop the boats' (AFP/Getty Images)

Tony Abbott has told European leaders to simply "stop the boats" flooding to Italy from Libya after up to 1,300 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean in a week.

The Australian Prime Minister, whose government was elected on that same promise, has been criticised for his stance but claims it saves lives.

Calling the crisis in Europe a "terrible, terrible tragedy", he said: "The only way you can stop the deaths is to stop the people smuggling trade.

"The only way you can stop the deaths is, in fact, to stop the boats.

Tony Abbott's claims that Australia's 'stop the boats' policy saves lives has been dismissed by migrant charities (Getty Images)

"That's why it is so urgent that the countries of Europe adopt very strong policies that will end the people smuggling trade across the Mediterranean.”

There have been reports of hunger strikes at the immigration centre on Christmas Island, and attempted suicide and self-harm in a detention centre on Manus island, Papua New Guinea, but authorities refuse to comment on the specifics of “Operation Sovereign Borders”.

After its own series of disasters involving asylum seekers dying at sea, Australia banned those who arrive by boat from ever being settled in the country.

They are instead held in the centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea and refugees are given the option of being resettled in Cambodia.

Jim Molan, a retired Australian Army major-general who helped develop the policy, dubbed Europe's response to the Mediterranean crisis "incompetent".

"The human tragedy is immense and is worsened by Europe's refusal to learn from its own mistakes and from the efforts of others who have handled similar problems," he wrote in The Australian newspaper.

But the Refugee Council of Australia said “stopping the boats” risks lives and returns desperate refugees to countries where they face poverty, conflict, persecution and death.

A police officer carries a child survivor who was on the boat full of asylum seekers that capsized off the coast of Sukapura, Indonesia. (Reuters)

Paul Power, the chief executive, said more than 40 Sri Lankan migrants refused asylum by Australia were subsequently found to be refugees by the UN.

“What further evidence does the government need that it is not possible to accurately assess asylum claims of frightened and traumatised people through an accelerated process on the high seas?” he added.

“In its ostensible bid to save lives as sea, the government is recklessly placing lives in peril.

The Council said it was “greatly troubled” by authorities’ refusal to provide details of turn-back operations, how migrants are held, on what basis their claims are assessed and whether they are given legal assistance.

A Sri Lankan navy boat (L) patrols after transferring 41 would-be asylum seekers whose boat was turned away by Australia in Galle (GETTY IMAGES)

“It is likely that Australia has violated multiple international treaties,” Mr Power said.

“It is also likely that the lives and safety of asylum seekers are now in danger because of Australia’s actions.”

Mr Abbott’s intervention came as European leaders continued attempts to respond to the influx of thousands of migrants from the Middle East and Africa after two shipwrecks took as many as 1,300 lives in the past week.

An emergency summit is due to be held on Thursday to discuss how to stop human trafficking.

Additional reporting by AP

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