Australia has announced plans to ban all migrants arriving illegally by boat from ever entering the country. The move would represent the toughening of an already harsh refugee policy.
The Australian government announced on Sunday that it would seek to amend the Migration Act so that asylum seekers who have attempted to reach the country illegally by boat since mid-2013 would be banned from ever entering, even on legitimate visas.
"The door to Australia is closed to those who seek to come here by boat with a people smuggler," conservative Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters in Sydney.
"It is closed."
The move, to be proposed in parliament next week, would toughen the already hardline policy introduced by a Labor government on July 19, 2013. It established that refugees who arrived by boat from Indonesian ports after that date were banned from ever being resettled in Australia, even if found to have a genuine claim.
Under the new legislation, even the thousands of asylum seekers who have returned home to the Middle East, Africa and Asia would be banned from ever traveling to Australia, even on a legitimate tourist or business visa, or as an Australian's spouse.
Children will be exempt, and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said some adults might also be exempted on a case-to-case basis.
Currently, Australia sends all migrants arriving illegally by boat to controversial offshore processing camps on the Pacific islands of Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus. These boatpeople have the choice only to return home, make a life on the islands, or go to a third country.
Turnbull said the proposed ban would also send "the strongest possible signal to those who are seeking to persuade persons currently on Nauru and in Manus that the Australian government will change its policy and allow them to settle here."
Canberra says the tough policy is aimed at preventing migrant deaths at sea.
Turnbull also said it would help Australia maintain the humanitarian aid it does provide.
"We have some of the most generous humanitarian programs in the world," he said on Sunday. "But the only reason we can do it, the only reason it has the public acceptance that it does, is because we are in command of our borders."
Australia has raised its refugee intake from 13,750 to 18,750 in recent years, and has also agreed to take 12,000 displaced in Syria and Iraq.
But refugee advocates have described the plan for a ban unacceptable, with rights group Save the Children saying the news could worsen the mental state of people detained in the Pacific camps.
"We have grave concerns that this kind of announcement will push people over the edge," said Mat Tinkler, the organization's director of policy and public advocacy in Australia.
Human rights lawyer David Manne also said that the proposal punished genuine refugees, telling the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the move did nothing to solve the problem of how they could rebuild their lives "in safety and dignity."
The hardline policy adopted by Australia has resulted in there being no asylum seekers delivered to Australia by a boat smuggling operation since July 2014. However, human rights groups allege that it violates the United Nations Refugee Convention.
tj/jlw (dpa, AP, AFP)