Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Tony Abbott, the former prime minister of Australia, used his first major speech since his ouster last month to denounce Europe’s migration policies, warning in London that the continent risked “fundamentally weakening itself” through “misguided altruism” as large numbers of asylum seekers arrive.
“All countries that say ‘anyone who gets here can stay here’ are now in peril, given the scale of the population movements that are starting to be seen,” Mr. Abbott, a conservative, said on Tuesday during a lecture honoring the British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
Mr. Abbott backed an aggressive policy on migration during his two years in office. The Australian authorities turned away boats and refused to accept asylum seekers intercepted at sea, instead sending them to offshore camps. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who replaced Mr. Abbott in September in a party coup, has announced no change to those policies.
Mr. Abbott recommended the same approach for Europe. “This means turning boats around, for people coming by sea,” he said. “It means denying entry at the border, for people with no legal right to come. And it means establishing camps for people who currently have nowhere to go.”
Such a tough policy would “gnaw at our consciences, yet it is the only way to prevent a tide of humanity surging through Europe and quite possibly changing it forever,” he said.
His remarks came hours after the president of the Philippines, one of several countries where Australia has hoped to send asylum seekers, said the country would not accept them for permanent resettlement.
Mr. Abbott has proposed Australia as a model for Europe’s migration questions before, but never in so prominent a forum as the event in London, a fund-raiser for a center dedicated to Ms. Thatcher’s life and her politics that was attended by Conservative Party lawmakers and party supporters.
His comments were later endorsed by Nigel Farage, leader of the right-wing U.K. Independence Party, which is known for its anti-immigration stance. Mr. Farage told the Australia Broadcasting Corporation that the former prime minister was “heroic” and “absolutely right.”
Refugee advocates have criticized Australia’s policies, saying that migrants have faced dangerous conditions in Pacific island detention camps. But Mr. Abbott credits the approach, which was begun under previous Australian governments, as stopping the flow of boats from Southeast Asia.
Australia’s overall immigrant detention numbers have steadily declined since 2013, but the number of people held in offshore camps has dropped much less. More than 600 people are still being detained on the small Pacific island nation of Nauru, and more than 900 remain in a camp on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.
As public criticism of the camps has increased, the Australian government has tried with little success to resettle asylum seekers in third countries. After just four people were sent to Cambodia under a $29 million agreement reached last year, Australia said this month that it was in talks with the Philippines.
That plan has run into questions over the ability of the Philippines to handle any sort of permanent resettlement. On Tuesday, President Benigno S. Aquino III said his country could take refugees only on a temporary basis. “We feel we are not in a capacity at this point in time to afford permanent residency to these people,” he told a forum in Manila on Tuesday.
Papua New Guinea said last week that it would begin resettling people held on Manus Island who are considered refugees, meaning that they fled war or persecution. Australia praised the announcement, but it is unclear whether refugees would accept permanent relocation to Papua New Guinea, which has high rates of crime and unemployment.
The offshore detention policy is facing a legal challenge before Australia’s High Court, brought on behalf of people who have been taken from the camps to Australia for medical treatment.
Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement on Tuesday that the agency was “disturbed” by the growing number of rape and sexual assault accusations made by detainees on Nauru that have gone unprosecuted. He called on Nauru and Australia to “provide a decent option” for a Somali detainee who said she was raped and is now pregnant.
The woman, known by the pseudonym Abyan, “is in a very fragile mental and physical condition and is deeply traumatized by her experiences,” Mr. Colville said. She traveled to Australia this month after her lawyers said she wanted an abortion, but was returned to Nauru without receiving one.
On Wednesday, Australia’s immigration minister, Peter Dutton, said Abyan would be returned to Australia soon for treatment but declined to indicate when. “She should come to Australia, not only to speak to a doctor in terms of the termination but also to seek mental health services,” he told Sky News.
In his London speech, Mr. Abbott argued that the people arriving in Europe should be considered economic migrants, not refugees, even if they were fleeing war in Syria or elsewhere, because they were no longer in immediate danger.
“In Europe, as with Australia, people claiming asylum invariably have crossed not one border but many, and are no longer fleeing in fear but are contracting in hope with people smugglers,” he said. “However desperate, almost by definition they are economic migrants because they had already escaped persecution when they decided to move again.”