The New York Times has published a scathing editorial attack on the Australian government’s current policy of boat turnbacks. The attack has arisen from the fact that several European officials have recently travelled on fact-finding missions to Australia. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has repeatedly presented his policy to world leaders as a proven solution to problems of illegal immigration and border control. While most governments have been lukewarm in their reception of the idea, some EU leaders seem inclined to adopt these policies. It is this that has the The New York Times concerned. They described the possible adoption of these policies as “unconscionable.”
The New York Times has attacked Australia’s border protection policies in the past, with a slightly less acerbic editorial, which nevertheless accused Australia of “failing in its obligation under international accords to protect refugees fleeing persecution.” This was written upon the first announcement of “Operation Sovereign Borders,” a multi-agency operation folding the previous border control operation “Operation Resolute” into a general deployment of air and naval assets to detect and aggressively interdict, turn, or tow back vessels before they reached Australian waters. Now, with the refugee crisis in Europe reaching critical proportions, the spotlight has fallen squarely on Mr Abbott’s policies, which have been a prominent mainstay of his politics since successfully running for election back in 2013.
The Times editorial comes at a time when the Australian government has been stridently defending its policies, claiming that the turnbacks have resulted in there being an end to reported deaths at sea in attempts to reach Australia. On top of this, images of the drowned Syrian child Aylan Kurdi, which recently went viral, have caused many world leaders and prominent citizens to call for a solution to the refugee problem. Tony Abbott’s reaction to the tragic images was to make the claim that his “stopping the boats” had prevented any such tragedy from occurring in Australia. The statement has drawn the ire of many refugee groups and Australian media outlets, who claim that it was a cheap attempt to politicize a human tragedy for his own benefit.
The policy of turnbacks has always been controversial in Australia, with large sections of the population frequently expressing shame, outrage, and anger at its adoption. Many Australians found themselves in complete agreement with The New York Times‘ condemnation of Mr Abbott and his ‘solution.
“Prime Minister Tony Abbott has overseen a ruthlessly effective effort to stop boats packed with migrants, many of them refugees, from reaching Australia’s shores. His policies have been inhumane, of dubious legality and strikingly at odds with the country’s tradition of welcoming people fleeing persecution and war.”
The New York Times also pointed to accusations made by an Indonesian people smuggler that he was paid $30,000 by Australian officials in order to turn his boat around, which would, the Times said, “represent a violation of international laws designed to prevent human smuggling and protect asylum seekers.” On top of this, the Times referenced a recent report claiming that the Nauru detention center, where Australia processes its informal boat arrivals, was a “purgatory where children are sexually abused, guards give detainees marijuana in exchange for sex and some asylum seekers are so desperate that they stitch their lips shut in an act of protest.”
This editorial in The New York Times is yet another indication that, in spite of the Australian government’s determinedly upbeat declarations and statements, the “draconian” measures adopted in The Border Force Act and Operation Sovereign Borders do little to alleviate the refugee problem as a problem, and potentially cause more difficulties than they can effectively hide. The New York Times is certain that widespread adoption of similar laws and policies would be nothing short of a disaster.
[Picture via Getty Images]