A bill proposed by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull Sunday that would place a lifetime ban on refugees travelling to the country by boat has been accused of violating Australia’s international obligations by human rights groups across the country and the world.
If the bill passes through the Australian High Court in November, it would represent the latest in a long line of stringent measures taken by the conservative leaning government, and act directly against article 31 of the United Nations’ 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees protocol, which states that signatory countries like Australia “shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees... coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened."
Turnbull said at a Sunday press conference that the measure was taken to promote immigrants who wish to enter the country through the legal visa process. He said it was also a way to stifle the human smuggling of refugees over sea that has resulted in 2016 being a record setting year for the amount of deaths for refugees who attempted to cross the Mediterranean Sea into Europe.
“A generous humanitarian program, a harmonious multicultural society, depends on the Australian government being in control of its borders,” Turnbull said at a press conference Sunday. “And it depends on us sending a united and concerted answer to the people smugglers that if they seek to bring people to Australia, those passengers will never settle in this county.”
While the Australian government granted 13,000 refugee visas between 2013 and 2014 and 20,000 between 2012 and 2013, the overwhelming majority of immigrants from the Syrian civil war and conflicts elsewhere in Africa and the Middle East have travelled to Lebanon or west to Europe.
In Europe, Germany has taken the lead in attempting to accommodate the greatest refugee crisis since the World War II era and Chancellor Angela Merkel has been criticized for her “open door” policy on refugees.
Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, has accused Germany and other liberal leaning countries of making the problem worse. Orban ordered the building of a fence along its entire border with Serbia in 2015 and made it a criminal offense for anyone who crossed it.
“As long as Austria and Germany don’t say clearly that they won’t take any more migrants, several million new immigrants will come to Europe,” he told Austrian broadcaster ORF in 2015.
In Greece, some 856,723 migrants arrived by sea in 2015, and 128,753 arrived by sea in 2016, according to BBC News. The Greek government’s response to all migrants without documentation has largely resulted in placing refugees in detention facilities or deterring them to more equipped countries.
The United States has welcomed more than 12,500 Syrian refugees in recent months, but a majority of U.S. governors have protested the program.