The New York Times is Wrong on Stopping the Boats

by on 6 September, 2015

The world has been shocked in recent days by the heartbreaking image of a child lying facedown in the sand, his life tragically lost as his family attempted to make the treacherous voyage from Turkey to Greece by sea. In the wake of this tragedy and Europe’s growing refugee crisis, the New York Times editorial board has taken to its pages urging European countries not to follow Australia’s ‘unconscionable’ treatment of refugees.

In an atmosphere of high tragedy, it is easy enough to see why Australia’s seemingly harsh border policies have raised the ire America’s leading progressive hive-mind. But the Times’ moral outrage is misplaced. The lost lives of Syrians who braved the high seas in a desperate bid to reach Europe don’t discredit Australia’s border policies. They vindicate them.

The truth is that the deaths of the 2600 people who drowned trying to reach Europe by sea in this year alone weren’t unavoidable. They came about because the numbers in refugee camps in countries like Turkey and Jordan had reached breaking point and some within those camps believed their best shot at a new life was by reaching the mainland of Europe through their own means. It is worth noting that at this point many of these people – including the thousands of Syrians in Austria this weekend demanding entry to Germany – were no longer in immediate peril once they entered a country outside their homeland. This is why it is wrong to assume that all refugees attempting to enter Europe by boat from countries like Turkey and Jordan were fleeing mortal danger. More accurately, they were sold a false promise by migrant smugglers seeking to capitalise on their fear and desperation. No doubt their situation remained desperate and their futures tragically uncertain. But allowing refugees to claim asylum in whatever country’s borders they are able to breach isn’t necessary for preventing the loss of human life, nor does it fix the actual problem of settling the world’s millions of displaced people. It simply means that those with the capacity to pay people smugglers and willingness to risk danger have the chance to take matters into their own hands; a course that often ends in tragedy. Instead, what is need is a coordinated international response to ensure those in camps are placed quickly and according to need.

As long as smugglers are able to sell the promise of a better life, there will be no shortage of people number willing to take them up. The motivation to ensure boats manned by people smugglers aren’t given a free pass to permanent residency isn’t borne out of cold-hearted callousness. The intention is to ensure that migrant smugglers can’t profit from a trade that costs live and that Australia’s finite refugee intake isn’t decided according to who is able to pay to get here by boat. In view of its current crisis, these are lessons Europe would do well to heed.

The New York Times appears to adopt the same kumbaya worldview as the Labor party during it’s last period in office whereby boat arrivals are deemed to be wholly unaffected by the incentives and policies government puts in place. Its vision is one where a country’s sovereign borders are an antiquated legal triviality and the only plausible reason that any migrant would get on a boat in search of a better life is that staying put would have meant facing almost certain death. To even raise the concern that those with the resources to arrive by boat are not always the most worthy candidates for a limited refugee quota, much less the fraught and hazardous nature of such a journey is only explicable by xenophobia or a sociopathic lack of compassion.

Such delusions would be less worrisome had they not resulted in the deaths of more than 1100 people at sea during Labor’s last term.

One of the greatest mistruths propagated by the Times’ editorial is the accusation that Australia’s current stance is ‘strikingly at odds with the country’s tradition of welcoming people fleeing persecution and war.’

Last year, Australia issued 13,768 refugee and humanitarian visas, a figure slightly above our trend for the past twenty years and is set to rise by 7500 over the next four years. As for our resettlement program, Australia ranks second in the world. The planned 6 000 for this year is lower than 1976 – 1982 during which Australia accepted large numbers of Indochinese refugees, but above trend for the thirty years prior. These figures give the lie to the Times’ emotionally laden plea that Australia should look to its past and abandon the moral bankruptcy of the state quo. To be sure, as a wealthy first world nation there is a persuasive argument that Australia could accept a greater intake. Australia has already agreed to take an extra 4400 Syrian refugees and Coalition MP’s and Ministers alike have signalled their desire for us to do more. That however, is a question of whether our current efforts go far enough, not proof of any lack of conviction to help genuine refugees. Words tell a story, but facts and number expose reality in a way that is less easily obscured.

None of this is to discount or diminish the plight of displaced Syrian refugees genuinely seeking asylum. But tragedy is a poor excuse for making an ill-considered scapegoat out of Australia’s stance on unauthorised boat arrivals. Indulging in such moral vanity is not just poor reporting. It adds nothing to the far more significant question of how the international community should come to the aid of the millions of people whose lives have been mired by upheaval, persecution and war.


One thought on “The New York Times is Wrong on Stopping the Boats

  1. Another pathetic attempt to defend this incompetent government by completely ignoring the substance of the article which was 100% correct. Your vision is one where an asylum seeker’s basic human rights are “an antiquated legal triviality”.

    Yes facts and number expose reality in a way that is less easily obscured.

    Unlike many countries which increased their refugee intake last year, Australia reduced its refugee intake. In the 2014 calendar year, UNHCR statistics show that Australia recognised 2,780 refugees through its asylum process and resettled 11,570 refugees from other countries, assisting 14,350 refugees in all.

    Around the world, 3,262,960 people were recognised as refugees through asylum processes and 105,197 were resettled, a total of 3,368,157.

    By this measure, Australia assisted 0.43% of the refugees recognised or resettled in 2014. It was ranked 22nd overall, 28th per capita and 46th relative to total GDP.

    “The Abbott government cut the refugee intake from 20,000 when it was elected. So we are already taking 18,000 fewer people because of the anti-refugee policies of the Abbott government. Abbott wants to look like he is doing something, but is doing as little as possible at the same time,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

    His policies have been inhumane, of dubious legality and strikingly at odds with the country’s tradition of welcoming people fleeing persecution and war.

    Since 2013, Australia has deployed its navy to turn back boats with migrants, including asylum seekers, before they could get close to its shores. Military personnel force vessels carrying people from Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Eritrea and other conflict-roiled nations toward Indonesia, where most of the journeys begin. A boat captain recently reported that Australian authorities paid him $30,000 to turn back. If true, that account, which the Australian government has not disputed, would represent a violation of international laws designed to prevent human smuggling and protect asylum seekers.

    Those who have not been turned back are held at detention centers run by private contractors on nearby islands, including the tiny nation of Nauru. A report this week by an Australian Senate committee portrayed the Nauru center as a purgatory where children are sexually abused, guards give detainees marijuana in exchange for sex and some asylum seekers are so desperate that they stitch their lips shut in an act of protest. Instead of stopping the abuses, the Australian government has sought to hide them from the world.

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