Refugee Boat People is Australia's Severest International Challenge
Illegal immigration is not only Australia’s most severe foreign policy challenge; it is also a contentions political hot potato within the country. With earlier policies having failed, the new Tony Abbott government will be hard pressed to find lasting solution to tackle the issue.
In the hope of new life, hundreds of asylum seekers from Indonesia, West Papua, Vietnam and far away countries like Afghanistan, Iran and even India make a perilous sea journey in rickety unseaworthy boats in a attempt to enter Australia, illegally.
Their travel is managed by ‘people smugglers’ who buy old second-hand boats from fishermen and use it to ferry people, on a one way trip to Australia. People smugglers charge money promising of safe passage to Australia shores. For years, people have been using this route to illegally enter Australia.
Subsequent governments in Australia have attempted a combination of policy strategies and policing measures to tackle this menace. Such measures have, however, invited global condemnation due to concerns of human rights abuse.
The importance of the issue can be gauged from the fact, that the new Australian Prime Minister Mr Abbott visited Indonesia, as the first country, after assuming office. With policy experts considering Indonesia as the key source country for illegal migrants into Australia, the issue of boat people topped the agenda for discussions between the two countries.
For years, Mr Abbott has been campaigning for turning boats back to Indonesia and deporting people to their countries of origin. In line with their strategy, Australian authorities detained 18 Indian asylum seekers recently, who are likely to be sent back to India.
Indonesia, on the other hand, argues that the asylum seekers are not its problem. The Indonesian government has already indicated that it will not accept any returning boats, despite their country of origin. Similarly, Indonesia objects the penetration of Australian intelligence network that are paying Indonesian fisherman for information of refugee boat departures and buying out their old boats to avoid them from selling it to people smugglers.
The issue of people smuggling was managed by former Australian Prime Minister John Howard through a combination of strategy by sending asylum seekers to several detention centres in Pacific island nations and refusing entry or turning back boats. These measures led to a drastic drop in boat arrivals. However, under the Labor governments of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard later, the focus shifted, bringing the boat people back.
The Australian government, eventually, stuck a deal with Papua New Guinea (PNG) to settle all asylum seekers there, even those with genuine reasons. The Australian policy, however, has not gone down too well among the local PNG population.
With earlier policies having failed to find a lasting solution, the Abbott government, will continue to remain focused on Australian severest foreign policy challenge - managing illegal immigration into the country.
December 19, 2015
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