Far more would-be refugees arrive in Australia by plane than by boat

Sep 05, 2019

NO AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT wants to look weak on “border security”. Since 2001, when John Howard, a conservative prime minister, turned back a ship which had rescued hundreds of asylum-seekers from a sinking vessel, most of them have policed the country’s borders with ferocity. Asylum-seekers who arrive illegally by boat are carted off to camps in the Pacific outposts of Nauru and Papua New Guinea. Australia refuses to admit them, even if they are found to be genuine refugees.

The “Pacific solution”, as this policy is known, is popular with ordinary Australians, who fear armadas of Asian immigrants. When they learn the details of individual cases, however, they often want the government to be more lenient. For instance, the government’s attempt, so far blocked by the courts, to deport a happily settled Sri Lankan family who arrived by boat has prompted a public outcry. The government insists that clemency would only encourage human-trafficking. By the same token, it argues that a law passed earlier this year that allows sick asylum-seekers in Nauru and Papua New Guinea to travel to Australia for treatment will beget more boat people. It hopes to repeal it when parliament reconvenes this month.

The government normally refuses to release information about “on-water matters”. Yet this week, to keep “the ever-present threat...

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