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Australia PM rules out resettling Asian boat migrants


Tony Abbott

Tony Abbott

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott Thursday ruled out helping resettle the wave of migrants fleeing to Southeast Asia, saying it would worsen the problem and “encourage people to get on boats”.

Abbott, whose conservative government employs tough measures to stop boatpeople, said Australia “will do absolutely nothing that gives any encouragement to anyone to think that they can get on a boat, that they can work with people-smugglers to start a new life”.

“Nope, nope, nope,” the Australian leader added when questioned by reporters about whether he would offer resettlement to the migrants from Myanmar’s oppressed Muslim Rohingya minority and Bangladesh.

“If we do the slightest thing to encourage people to get on the boats, this problem will get worse, not better,” he said.

Nearly 3,000 migrants have swum to shore or been rescued off Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand over the past 10 days after a Thai crackdown on human-trafficking threw the illicit trade into chaos, with some of the syndicates involved abandoning their helpless human cargo at sea.

Abbott said Australia’s role was to do all it could to end people-smuggling, which he reiterated was key to stopping the migrant boats.

“The best way to do that is to make it absolutely crystal clear that if you get on a leaky boat, you aren’t going to get what you want, which is a new life in a Western country,” he said.

Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir said after Abbott’s comments that countries such as Australia which are signatories to the Refugee Convention should shoulder the responsibilities that come with it.

“Countries that are parties to the convention on refugees have responsibility. It is upon them to ensure that they believe in what they sign,” Nasir told reporters in Jakarta.

“If you believe in that when you signed it, then you should act upon it and carry out your responsibility.”

Indonesia, along with Malaysia and Thailand, initially refused to take in boats overloaded with exhausted and dying migrants.

But Malaysia and Indonesia have since relented, announcing Wednesday after talks in Malaysia’s capital that they would accept and care for boatpeople for one year, or until they can be resettled or repatriated with the help of international agencies.

Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand are not signatories to the Refugee Convention.

Australia’s government introduced a military-led operation to turn back boats carrying asylum-seekers before they reach the island continent after coming into power in September 2013.

It has credited the controversial policy for the nation going 18 months with virtually no asylum-seeker boat arrivals and no reported deaths at sea, but human rights advocates have slammed the policy for violating Australia’s international obligations.

Before the policy was introduced, boats were arriving almost daily with hundreds of people drowning en route.

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