Sinking the boat people’s hopes

Nick Martin argues for an end to Australia’s policy of detaining refugees

The World Today Published 8 February 2019 Updated 9 November 2020 3 minute READ

Nick Martin

Served as a senior medical officer, Nauru until August 2017

Australia’s system of processing refugees who arrive offshore by boat is the subject of fierce political controversy and increasing international criticism.

Under a policy that ran from 2001 to 2008 and then restarted in 2012, Australia takes irregular maritime arrivals, or boat people, who evade the patrol ships of Operation Sovereign Borders first to Christmas Island, off the west coast of Australia, and from there either to Manus Island, which is part of Papua New Guinea, or to Nauru, a tiny sovereign nation in Micronesia. Both major political parties have signed up to a 2013 statement that nobody arriving by boat in Australian waters will be settled in Australia.

Most refugee boats set off from Indonesia. Their passengers come from various countries including Iran, Somalia, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. There are also Rohingya from Myanmar. They usually arrive in Indonesia by air, and then pay a people smuggler for passage to Australian waters.

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