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Australian Prime Minister tells EU to 'stop the boats' as hundreds more migrants die

Not everyone is happy about Tony Abbott’s comments.

Tony Abbott
Tony Abbott
Image: AP/Press Association Images

AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER Tony Abbott, whose government introduced tough measures to stop asylum seeker boats, has said the European Union should follow suit – describing it as the only way to end deaths at sea.

His comments came after a fishing vessel crammed with migrants capsized off Libya at the weekend with the loss of 800 lives, and as EU foreign and interior ministers met in Luxembourg to discuss ways to stem the flood of people trying to reach Europe.

Australia’s conservative government introduced a military-led operation after coming into power in September 2013 to turn back boats carrying asylum seekers before they reach the continent.

“We have got hundreds, maybe thousands of people drowning in the attempts to get from Africa to Europe,” Abbott told reporters.

The “only way you can stop the deaths is in fact to stop the boats”, he added.

While Abbott’s controversial policy has proved successful, with the nation going nearly 18 months with virtually no asylum seeker boat arrivals and no reported deaths at sea, human rights advocates say it violates Australia’s international obligations.

Before the policy was introduced, boats were arriving almost daily with hundreds of people drowning en route.

“We must resolve to stop this terrible problem and the only way you can stop the deaths is to stop the people-smuggling trade,” Abbott said.

“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.”

Europe’s reaction ‘incompetent’ 

Under Canberra’s hard-line policy, navy ships intercept boats carrying asylum seekers and turn them back to where they transited from, mostly Indonesia, or send those on board to offshore processing camps in the Pacific islands of Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

Asylum-seekers who arrive by boat are blocked from resettling in Australia even if they are found to be genuine refugees. They are left with the option of either returning home or living in PNG, Nauru, or even impoverished Cambodia, under bilateral agreements.

The policy has been slammed by the United Nations and human rights advocates who say it violates the 1951 Refugee Convention of which Australia is a signatory.

The offshore processing of asylum seekers has also faced criticism over the camps’ conditions and the lengthy processing times.

Italy Europe Migrants Italian Coast Guard ship Bruno Gregoretti carrying survivors of a migrant boat that overturned off the coast of Libya at the weekend. Source: Carmelo Imbesi

One of the architects of Australia’s border policies, retired army major-general Jim Molan, said the crisis was due to Europe’s “incompetent policy reaction”.

Writing in The Australian newspaper Tuesday, he said the tragedies were “worsened by Europe’s refusal to learn from its own mistakes and from the efforts of others who have handled similar problems”.

He added:

Destroying the criminal people-smugglers was the centre of gravity of our border control policies, and judicious boat turnbacks was the key.

In contrast, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said the unfolding disaster was a result of Europe turning its back on “some of the most vulnerable migrants in the world”, and risked “turning the Mediterranean into a vast cemetery”.

Italy had a search-and-rescue operation that saved some 170,000 people last year but it was suspended by Rome in protest over rising costs, replaced by a smaller and much more restricted EU-led mission.

Molan also blamed Europe and the United States for not sending troops to Libya, where most of the migrants fleeing to Europe over the past two weeks have come from, and the failure of the United Nations to push for peacekeeping forces.

Read: Two survivors arrested as 800 die in migrant ship disaster

Read: ‘We’re looking at the worst massacre ever seen in the Mediterranean’

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