03 April 2012

Fresh boat arrival reignites Australian immigration row

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A boat carrying 43 asylum seekers arriving in Australian waters has once again led to political parties taking swipes at each other over the continuing Australian immigration issue.

Australian immigration

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen and opposition immigration spokesperson Scott Morrison continue to argue over the Australian immigration issue.

Despite a recent report from senior UN official that claims for asylum in Australia dropped 9% compared to a worldwide increase of 20%, the Australian immigration issue is still stirring bitterness in the political debate.

The opposing Coalition Party accused the Gillard government of being in 'severe policy denial' in its approach to border protection while Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the latest boat arrival was due to Coalition leader Tony Abbott's 'stubborn refusal' to cooperate with the government on offshore processing policy.

The boat was intercepted by Australian immigration officials north of the Tiwi Islands; all 43 passengers and two members of crew have been taken to the detention centre on Christmas Island.

A report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) last week showed that the number of asylum seekers arriving in Australia fell by 9% to just 11,500 while the worldwide average soared by 20% to 440,000.

While the worldwide increase in refugees can be attributed to global issues, namely the Arab Spring, the UNHCR's report claims that Australia's decrease is paradoxically linked to the worsening political debate in the country which has result in Australia earning a 'hostile and toxic' reputation among asylum seekers who feel they will not be treated fairly.

"Overall, people contemplating moving for whatever reason, saw Australia as a less hospitable place to come and claim international refugee protection," said Richard Towle, regional representative of the UNHCR.

"There are many reasons why they would have reached that conclusion, not least the dangers of the voyage, the costs and what are perceptions of a pretty negative and sometimes hostile public debate on those issues."

Mr Towle's comments seem to have gone unheard on both sides of the political debate in Australia with opposition immigration spokesperson Scott Morrison repeating his party's calls for the government to reinstate border protection policies last seen under the Howard government.

"The government refuses to implement the policies that worked and boats continue to arrive as a result.

"This government can't be trusted when it comes to border protection. They are engaged in deep policy envy because they have no proven policies of their own, only a litany of failure to their name.

"Labor remains locked in a severe state of policy denial on its border protection failures and are still not listening to the Australian people."

Immigration Chris Bowen in turn claimed the opposition couldn't 'have it both ways' and labelled their accusations as hypocrisy:

"They want to deny the government the ability to limit or stop boat arrivals and at the same time attack the government for the number of boat arrivals."


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