Kevin Rudd, Australia’s new Prime Minister, who regained the office in late June by displacing floundering fellow Labor Party member, Julia Gillard, announced recently that any refugees arriving by boat on Australia’s shores would be denied entry and, instead, sent off and resettled in Papua New Guinea (PNG), Australia’s nearest neighbor to the north and one of the region’s poorest countries. This policy is a dramatic change in Australia’s refugee policy and one that could be illegal according to the UN. Also important is that Mr. Rudd’s statement is a blatant election year ploy playing to unease about the increasing number of refugees seeking political asylum in Australia.
The controversial politics over asylum-seekers started in 2001 when refugees started arriving from Iraq, Iran, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and other strife-torn countries of Southwestern and South Asia. In response, John Howard, a conservative prime minister, opened refugee detention camps on nearby Nauru and on Manus Island in PNG. Later, in his first term as prime minister, Kevin Rudd closed this camps and instead processed boat people on Australia’s Christmas Island, near Indonesia (see map). More recently, Ms Gillard, facing public concern about the increasing number of refugees arriving on the shores of Australia, reopened the Manus Island and Nauru camps. However, even this move did not apparently assuage the Australian voters, opening the door to Mr Rudd’s reentry to the prime ministry, and, apparently, his new hardline views about resettling refugees in PNG in enlarged camps.
This new refugee policy is not sitting well with the UN, according to an article earlier today in the New York Times, which you can read here.
According to an article in the July 27, 2012 issue of The Economist, more than 16,000 asylum-seekers have arrived by boat in Australia this year, almost as many as in all of 2012.