SYDNEY, Australia – Australia on Wednesday, September 10, hailed its “extraordinary” success in halting boatpeople as it marked the one-year anniversary of a hardline immigration policy, saying people-smugglers had “crawled back under the rock they came from”.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said the government had delivered on its election promise to “stop the boats” when it came to power in September 2013 and the argument over whether the policy had worked or not “is settled”.
“As Operation Sovereign Borders approaches its first anniversary in just over a week, any fair assessment would acknowledge the extraordinary results that have been achieved,” he said in a speech.
“Some have said that it has been at too high a price. They have clearly not spoken to the customs and naval officers that I have spoken to who had the gruesome task of scooping the corpses of children out of the water.”
Only one boatload of asylum-seekers has reached the Australian mainland since December, compared to almost daily arrivals previously under the Labor administration, with hundreds of people dying en route.
“Our border protection policies are very real, they are working and no one knows that better than the people-smugglers who have been put out of business,” Morrison added.
“At least one smuggler we know of is now driving a taxi in Jakarta, rather than running deadly boats to Australia. People-smugglers have crawled back under the rock they came from.”
His comments came just days after the United Nations’ new human rights chief said Australia’s treatment of asylum-seekers was “leading to a chain of human rights violations“, a charge strongly refuted by the minister.
Under Canberra’s immigration policy, boatpeople arriving since July 2013 have been sent to camps on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and the remote Pacific state of Nauru.
They are resettled in those countries if their refugee claims are approved.
Australia also implemented a military-led operation to turn asylum-seeker boats back to countries such as Indonesia, where many begin the dangerous sea crossing.
Morrison said of the more than 1,000 asylum-seekers taken to Nauru, 206 had been recognized as refugees and resettled there.
He admitted there were “difficult and frustrating problems” with the resettlement program in Papua New Guinea, but said Prime Minister Peter O’Neill and Immigration Minister Rimbink Pato were “rock solid” in their support.
The Australian government has also been working on an agreement to transfer asylum-seekers to Cambodia, one of Asia’s poorest nations.
Morrison said there was no one country better placed than Australia to help Cambodia resettle refugees.
“I’ve heard in this debate for many years (that) we need a regional solution – this is what it looks like,” he said.
“A regional solution looks like people being regionally resettled in countries like Cambodia, provided we can get the capabilities in place and the support systems in place to enable them to do the job well.” – Rappler.com