SYDNEY, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced new legislation that would permanently end the possibility undocumented immigrants arriving by boat from Indonesia would be granted visas to stay in Australia.
Turnbull, leader of the Liberal Party who has taken a hard line on immigration policy, touted the new legislation as a means to deter people smugglers who are often responsible for attempting to ferry people from Indonesia to Australia at significant cost to the individuals.
The legislation would prevent anyone arriving to Australia illegally by boat from obtaining a visa. The policy would extend to refugees as well as attempted illegal immigrants.
“They must know that the door to Australia is closed to those who seek to come here by boat with a people smuggler,” he said.
The Australian government has said thousands of people have died trying to make the dangerous trip from Indonesia to Australia in boats that frequently are not up to the task. In 2013, the government turned the matter of tracking potential refugee and asylum-seeking ships over to the military, which now has the responsibility of turning the boats – and their passengers — away.
The legislation will be retroactive to any asylum-seekers who arrived since 2013. Several hundred men are being held by the Australian government in camps on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and the island nation of Nauru, where they were sent after being caught trying to enter Australia illegally. Critics have assailed the camps as a humanitarian nightmare, citing overcrowding, unbearable heat and a lack of sanitation.
The Australian government generally accepts about 13,000 refugees per year who submit themselves through the legal immigration process, one Malcolm called “one of the most generous humanitarian programs in the world.”
Recently, Australia committed itself to accepting an additional 12,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq.
By Eric DuVall