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new york times editorial attacks australia’s ‘stop the boats’ policy

Image by Mustafa Khayat

Image by Mustafa Khayat

An editorial by The New York Times has attacked the Australian government’s current ‘stop the boats’ policy, in a week where the desperate plight of refugees and asylum seekers has been highlighted in the media.

The editorial published in Thursday’s edition of The New York Times pulled no punches, decrying the Abbott government’s policy as ‘ruthlessly effective’, ‘inhumane’ and ‘of dubious legality’. It referenced the silencing of whistle-blowers in detention centres through the Border Force Act, which came into effect in July, and reports of physical and sexual abuse in the detention centre at Nauru emerging in a current Senate inquiry.

This week, the horrors of the refugee crisis were placed firmly in the public’s eye through a number of developing stories. An image of the body of Syrian 3-year-old, Aylan Kurdi, washed upon the shore, highlighted the desperation of Syrian refugees escaping their homeland and was met with an outpouring of shock and grief by the public. Kurdi’s mother and brother, along with nine others, drowned off the coast of Turkey when their boat capsized on its way to Europe this week. The boys’ father, Abdullah Kurdi, has become the face of this refugee crisis, now left with no family after trying to flee the Syrian warzone.

Further to this, the bodies of 71 migrants were discovered in an abandoned truck on a highway in Austria last week. As neighbouring Hungary is currently the main entry point for asylum seekers hoping to reach the European Union by land, the Hungarian government cancelled all outgoing trains to Austria and Germany. This was in an effort to force asylum seekers to remain in the country until they were processed. Thousands broke through barriers and promised to walk from Budapest to Vienna, in the hope of seeking asylum. Under international pressure, Austria and Germany have now agreed to open their borders and accept asylum seekers from Hungary.

Clearly, the current refugee crisis and surge in migration is concerning for both the general public and world leaders, particularly those in European countries that many are fleeing to. The NYT editorial concluded that it was ‘inexcusable’ that those fleeing ‘hopeless and degrading’ situations could experience worse in the ‘prosperous nations’ that they were coming to, and warned European leaders against being tempted by Abbott’s ‘hardline approach’.

On Friday, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton released a statement rejecting the claims of the editorial. The statement read that ‘our policies are lawful. They are safe. And they work.’ The minister also invoked the deaths of 50 asylum seekers, who perished after their boat crashed into cliffs off Christmas Island, as a reminder of the risks of seeking asylum by boat. It is these deaths, the minister argued, that the ‘stop the boats’ policy aims to end.

In the wake of the release of the image of Aylan Kurdi, Prime Minister Abbott argued that this was proof that the federal government’s turn-back policy regarding boat arrivals was working, as there had been no similar disaster in Australia in recent times. In what some considered to be the politicisation of a tragic event, Abbott described the deaths at sea as being a result of ‘illegal migration’ and that, ‘if you want to stop the deaths, you want to stop the drownings, you have got to stop the boats.’

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