Friday, August 14, 2009

Thank Rudd for the Surge in boat people Down Under'

Policy shift 'led to surge in boat people Down Under'

Changes in Australian immigration policies are having knock-on effects that are being felt as far away as the refugee camps of Pakistan. Boat people arrivals have soared since the Australian government eased strict immigration policies 18 months ago - and now, with an early election looming, there are signs that they will once again move to the political centre stage.

During the charged pre-election environment of 2001, the government of John Howard introduced a controversial plan that efficiently tapped into fears about big numbers of boatpeople arriving on Australian shores. Under his legislation, certain remote territories were excised from Australia's migration zone. Boatpeople arriving in these tiny territories - the Ashmore and Cartier Islands, Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands - were denied access to the Australian legal system. Instead, they were transported to another country, Nauru, while their claims for refugee status were determined - not by the courts, but by Australian immigration officials.

The "Pacific solution" was born. The effect was immediate. In 2001, 5,516 boatpeople arrived in Australian territory. In 2002, there was just one. But the policy was hugely controversial and the then-opposition Labor Party vowed to end it. Labor won the election in late 2007 and it was soon consigned to history.

The policy changes of last year have been met with an increase in arrivals. From 161 arrivals last year, there have been about 978 arrivals this year - more than three times the total number of asylum seekers in the six years that the Pacific solution was in place.

Now, the boats have reappeared and the unfortunate people may once again find their fates hitched to political machinations in Canberra.

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