Australia’s New Asylum-Seeker Legislation Questioned
By Dinouk Colombage
Australia’s new legislation, which allows the processing of asylum seekers off Australian shores, is expected to increase the number of boat people, according to human rights activist Shane Marsden.
Marsden explained that while he supported the Australian government’s initiative to help the asylum seekers, they needed to find a method which would not endanger their lives.
“The new legislation by the government will only serve to encourage a larger number of people to risk their lives undertaking the dangerous journey in non-seaworthy vessels,” he said.
He added that he did not agree with the government’s prediction that the offshore processing will discourage people from getting on to boats.
“There are now two new centres opened in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. This means that the boat people have two new options in their hunt for asylum,” Marsden explained.
The activist added that those vessels which escape naval detection will endanger the lives of their passengers to ensure they are picked up.
“It is the duty of the Australian navy to respond to any distress signal they receive within their waters. The smugglers often damage their own vessels to ensure they are picked up and transported to an Australian detention centre. If they wish to avoid the two new centres they will cripple their vessels in Australian waters and wait for the authorities to rescue them.”
The bill restoring offshore processing was approved by the Senate on Wednesday after it passed through the House of Representatives.
Australia closed their offshore processing centres back in 2001 following the Howard government’s decision to cut down on the number of asylum seekers.
The new law will see processing centres reopened on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, while it also suggests that discussions continue with Malaysia over the possibility of an asylum-seeker swap agreement.
Marsden questioned how the boat people’s applications for asylum being processed in Malaysia would act as a deterrent.
“These people are choosing to flee their home countries, if they are given a new start in another country they will not care where. If the government is serious about stopping the boat people they must turn them back rather than passing the problem on to someone else,” he said.
Navy spokesman, Commander Kosala Warnakulasuriya, said that in the past week there had been a major reduction in the detection of asylum-seekers, but refused to comment on whether or not this was a result of Australia’s newest legislation.
Sri Lanka has seen an upsurge in the number of asylum seekers leaving, with over 1,500 people reaching Australian shores this year alone, while just over a 1,000 would be asylum seekers who have been apprehended throughout the year by the police and the navy.