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Frank-Walter Steinmeier und Julie Bishop
Image: DW/H. Kiesel

Australia and Germany discuss migrants

Samantha Early
April 23, 2015

The foreign ministers of Germany and Australia have discussed approaches to prevent migrants drowning at sea. While Australia has taken a tough stance, the foreign ministers said such measures may not work for Europe.


At a press conference following their meeting in Berlin on Wednesday, the question of whether Europe could take lessons from Australia's handling of migrants was put to Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his Australian counterpart Julie Bishop.

Europe has been under pressure over its migration policies following several mass drownings in the Mediterranean Sea as migrants attempted to flee conflict, persecution or poverty in Africa and the Middle East. European leaders are due to meet Thursday in Brussels, where they are expected to announce new measures to try to prevent future tragedies.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Bishop told reporters that since Australia implemented its current policies - including forbidding asylum to people who arrive in the often unseaworthy boats organized by people smugglers - the boats have stopped coming and the people smuggling trade has been "dismantled." She said that in 2013, before "Operation Sovereign Borders," about 300 boats carrying a total of 20,000 people attempted to reach Australia, and 1,200 people drowned making the attempt.

"As a result of the policies we have taken, there have been no boats come to Australia since January 2014, no deaths at sea as a result. So we believe that the approach that we have taken has worked for us," she said.

Similar tragedies, different circumstances

However, Bishop acknowledged the different geographical and other conditions between Australia and the Mediterranean region.

Flyer - Australien No Way
The Australian Customs department has a clear message to asylum seekers wanting to arrive by boatImage: customs.gov.au

"Our PM (Prime Minister) has offered up the experience of Australia for others to consider, but it is for the governments and regions to make their own decisions as to what they believe will work to resolve these issues," she said.

Steinmeier also pointed out that the Australian experiences were not transferable to Europe.

"We have a constitutional responsibility to grant asylum seekers the possibility, under Article 16 and 16a (of Germany's basic law)," he said, adding that the EU was committed to its humanitarian responsibility to rescue people from drowning.

He said while Australia saw itself as an immigration country, Germany lacked an overarching policy on immigration.

"I think we should open up the debate about immigration legislation," the Social Democrat Steinmeier said.

While Australia's asylum policies and offshore immigration detention centers have been controversial, the country takes in 190,000 people each year through legal immigration channels.

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