Global Visas

Global Visas

April 13, 2010 03:00 ET

Australian Government Takes Hard Line on Asylum Seekers as It Approaches Election

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM--(Marketwire - April 13, 2010) - Chris Evans, the Australia Immigration Minister, announced sweeping changes to Australian immigration laws on 9th April shortly after a boat with 70 asylum seekers on board, including young children and pregnant women, was intercepted by the navy as it began to sink off Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean. The changes will close the doors to Afghan and Sri Lankan asylum seekers arriving in the country in boats.

The Minister told a news conference in Canberra, "We have taken a consistently hard-line approach to people smuggling and today's announcements will further strengthen the integrity of Australia's immigration system."

Refugees from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan will no longer be able to apply for asylum in Australia but will be transferred to a detention centre on Christmas Island for health, security and identity checks. The Christmas Island centre is already stretched to its maximum capacity.

4,500 asylum seekers have arrived in over 100 boats since Kevin Rudd became the Australian Prime minister in 2007 but he has come under increasing pressure to stem the arrival of boat people in a year when he is due to call an election. A recent opinion poll on Australian Immigration policy showed that 64 per cent of Australians believe asylum seekers arriving by sea should be returned and made to apply "through normal refugee channels".

Unsurprisingly these changes to Australia immigration have caused some controversy. Ian Rintoul, a spokesman for the Refugee Action Coalition, said that the politically driven policy change was "disgraceful, unjustified and totally unnecessary." Speaking of asylum speakers he said, "They're going to sit in detention having committed no crime; having justifiably fled persecution, the Government refuses to process them, only to see them rot in detention."

The minister's response to the refugee problem appears to be designed to prevent Australian immigration becoming an election issue: in the meantime immigration has become an issue in the current British General Election campaign, with concerns being raised over the burden that large numbers are placing on local services in some parts of the country.

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