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Europe rejects the 'Australian Solution'

  • 15 May 2015

Following the drowning of around 800 people on 19 April, politicians in the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Denmark have suggested that the European Union adopt our hardline asylum policy – the ‘Australian Solution’.

Europe is desperately searching for a solution to address the massive scale of irregular migration that has emerged as the fallout from war induced lawlessness in Syria, Iraq and Libya. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has advised the EU that ‘only way you can stop the deaths is in fact to stop the boats’.

Migration by boat from countries in the Middle East and North Africa is nothing new. Between 1998 and 2013, on average 44,000 people were smuggled into Europe across the Mediterranean. This figure leapt to almost 220,000 in 2014 and stands at around 40,000 thus far in 2015.

With the increase in numbers, comes an increase in deaths. More than 3000 people died crossing the Mediterranean in 2014, making up 65 per cent of migrant deaths at sea globally. The crisis is of such severity that a resolution is being drafted before the United Nations Security Council to address migration on the Mediterranean.

The ‘Australian Solution’ is being touted in Europe as an effective way to stop irregular migration across the Mediterranean. Australia’s asylum policy, Operation Sovereign Borders is implemented in three ways: boat turn-backs; offshore processing; and offshore resettlement.

On the back of these three pillars Australia has stopped the boats arriving and stopped deaths at sea. In 2013, 20,719 asylum seekers arrived by boat, while in 2014 that number dropped to 164. Between 2008 and 2013, approximately 862 people died trying to reach Australia’s mainland to seek asylum between 2008 and 2013. None died at sea in 2014.

Australia has received a barrage of criticism from human rights bodies for its asylum policy. In his maiden speech, High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein said Australia's ‘policy of off-shore processing for asylum seekers arriving by sea, and interception and turning back of vessels, is leading to a chain of human rights violations, including arbitrary detention and possible torture following return to home countries.’  Other United Nations bodies, including UNHCR, UNICEF and Committee Against Torture have raised similar concerns.

Prime Minister Abbott was quick to recommend the Australian Solution to the EU, saying Australia and the EU were in ‘contact at official level’ on asylum policy. Mr Abbott went on to say that the policy is ‘an object