Australia's Immigration Minister Chris Bowen is painting the
return of 16 asylum seekers to Sri Lanka as a victory in the fight against
human smugglers who sell spots on rusty boats. The men arrived in Australia
after the August 13 decision to reinstate offshore processing on Nauru, and
decided to return to their home country rather than wait in tents on the remote
Pacific Island for an indefinite amount of time as their refugee claims are
"Both the Nauru transfers and this group of adult Sri Lankan men choosing to return home provide further evidence that the people smugglers are selling lies and misleading asylum seekers about the situation they will face if they reach Australia by boat," Bowen said in a press release Saturday. "People who pay smugglers to risk their lives on a dangerous sea journey are throwing their money away, as demonstrated by the speedy return of this group."
Opposition leader Tony Abbott told the media it's proof the Labour government can't secure the nation's borders and Liberal MP Steve Ciobo went further, telling Sky News that "what this is a sign of is that a lot of asylum seekers that are coming to this country are not genuine refugees."
Jana Favero, spokeswoman for the Melbourne-based Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said to paint the return of these men as evidence they are not legitimate refugees is false.
"You can't underestimate how much pressure they are under to return and whether it is informed consent," she said. "There have also been cases of people taking money to return only to be tortured or jailed."
Favero also said it points to the "horrific" conditions of the detention centres, particularly the makeshift tent city on Nauru, that they would rather return home despite possible risk of persecution.
The resource centre's CEO and founder, Kon Karapanagiotidis, told me last week the best way for Australia to stop people from getting on dangerous boats to cross the Indian Ocean is to open fast and efficient processing centres in Indonesia or Malaysia where refugees are waiting.
The return to offshore processing on Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island is part of the Australian government's promise to implement key recommendations of an expert panel report released Aug. 13. The report also recommended revoking family reunification benefits for refugees who arrive by boat. Canada has implemented similar penalties for boat migrants under Bill C-31, including a five-year ban on family reunification, travel or permanent resident status.Katie DeRosa is a Times Colonist journalist, investigating Australia's mandatory detention policies in light of Canada's tougher refugee reforms under Bill C-31.