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Australia's shameful refugee policy

An editorial "Australia Doubles Down on Cruel Refugee Policy" in The New York Times says all that needs to be said about Australia's proposed legislation relating to refugees "housed" on what many describe as near-enough to hell-holes - Manus Island and Nauru.


 Migrants bound for Australia were stranded in Indonesia after their boat broke down and washed ashore.
 
"The government of Australia has come under withering criticism for its harsh anywhere-but-here approach to refugees and other migrants who attempt to reach the country by boat. But instead of revisiting a cruel and costly policy — which involves sending everyone intercepted at sea to offshore prisons — Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has decided to double down.

His administration intends to propose legislation this week that would bar anyone who seeks to enter Australia without authorization and by boat from ever setting foot in the country. That would ban, among others, the approximately 1,200 people currently being held in camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea from finding a legal way to even visit Australia, where some have relatives.

Mr. Turnbull billed the lifetime ban as a stern message to smugglers. “They must know that the door to Australia is closed to those who seek to come here by boat with a people smuggler,” he said last Sunday during a news conference. “It’s closed.” But his initiative targets refugees who are scrambling to find a haven amid the largest displacement crisis since World War II.

Australian lawmakers should oppose this proposal. Draconian immigration measures are often passed without due consideration for the human toll and opportunity cost they represent.

The United States adopted a similarly austere policy when it passed a sweeping overhaul of immigration laws in 1996. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act said that anyone who lived without authorization in the United States for more than a year would have to wait 10 years before seeking to be admitted lawfully. This made it nearly impossible for American citizens to sponsor foreign-born spouses who were subject to the 10-year ban for permanent residency.

A blanket ban on migrants who attempted to reach Australia by boat would surely deprive Australia of talented people. Take, for instance the remarkable Afghan photojournalist Barat Ali Batoor, who was admitted lawfully to Australia in May 2013 — the year Australia began its zero-tolerance approach toward smugglers — after he documented a harrowing failed attempt to reach the island by boat in a series of haunting photos. How would the country benefit from barring skilled and energetic immigrants like Mr. Batoor?

Bill Shorten, the opposition leader in Parliament, reacted to the proposal with reasonable skepticism, saying it seemed “ridiculous to me that a genuine refugee who settles in the U.S. or Canada and becomes a U.S. or Canadian citizen” after being barred from Australia “is banned from visiting Australia as a tourist, businessman or businesswoman 40 years down the track.”

Beyond being ridiculous, this is a cruel, shortsighted and shameful position for a nation that has historically welcomed refugees."

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