Shocking new legislation is set to go before the Australian Parliament in the coming week. Malcolm Turnbull – the nation’s prime minister – faced global criticism with the announcement of a law that would codify a lifetime ban on refugees arriving by boat. Ostensibly, the move is to combat people smuggling, which is a legitimately pressing issue. Desperate refugees with little-to-nothing are often at the mercy of those profiting from their dire situation. In one horrifying situation, smugglers abandoned a truck in Austria in which 71 refugees suffocated. And thousands of refugees have perished at sea, often in unsafe vessels overcrowded by smugglers trying to maximize profit.
Turnball makes his case for the law:
It is a critically important strong message to send to people smugglers. They must know that the door to Australia is closed to those who seek to come here by boat with a people smuggler. It is closed.
But the proposed law in Australia is merely an extension of the nation’s already hostile refugee policy which first and foremost targets the refugees themselves. Currently, the Australian government redirects immigrants fleeing violence to islands off the nation’s coast where they exist in a legal limbo. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have highlighted abuse at the centers. Recently – in the illegal detention centers on the island of Nauru – a refugee died after self-immolating in protest against the inhumane conditions. Another refugee died from an apparent heart-attack, unable to receive appropriate medical care in time in such a remote location removed from properly equipped medical facilities.
Additionally – as Kaldor Center for International Refugee Law Member Madeline Gleeson points out – the current framework of the law is vague enough to create lifetime bans, which would effectively prohibit anyone who was a boat-borne refugee from visiting Australia. It would, for example, potentially ban individuals who settled in a new nation and went on to practice their professions in medicine, law, or other sectors from even attending an Australian conference.
The official rationale for this law is subterfuge. This bizarre assault on refugees human rights is in keeping with the nationalist-populist backlash occurring around the globe to the refugee crisis. There is simply no place in a free and open society for such draconian measures.