News / Asia

Immigration Debate Heats Up as Australians Prepare to Vote

Australian Prime Minister and leader of the Australian Labor Party Kevin Rudd (L) speaks as the leader of the conservative opposition Tony Abbott listens on during their debate at the National Press Club in Canberra, August 11, 2013.
Australian Prime Minister and leader of the Australian Labor Party Kevin Rudd (L) speaks as the leader of the conservative opposition Tony Abbott listens on during their debate at the National Press Club in Canberra, August 11, 2013.
Phil Mercer
Immigration is becoming one of the key themes in the Australian election campaign ahead of the vote on September 7.  Both major parties are promising a tougher stance to stem a steady flow of asylum seekers arriving by boat, despite criticism that the policies demonize the vulnerable.
 
Last month, demonstrators targeted the Prime Minister during noisy demonstrations in Sydney and Melbourne last month.  They believe Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s plan to send asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea is a national disgrace.
 
In recent months, several migrant boats have sunk en route to Australia from Indonesia.  An unknown number of people have drowned.
 
Rudd said sending asylum seekers who arrive by sea to neighboring Papua New Guinea, with no chance of resettlement in Australia, is about saving lives, not winning votes.  
 
“If you come by boat, you will never permanently live in Australia.  This has not been an easy decision for me or my colleagues.  The bottom line is that we have to protect lives by dealing robustly with people smugglers," said Rudd. "Australians have had enough of seeing asylum seekers dying in the waters to our north and northwest. They’ve had enough of people smugglers profiting from death.”  
 
Rudd’s uncompromising policy was followed by a pledge from conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott to use Australia’s military to stop asylum boats, which sail mostly from Indonesia. “The crisis on our borders has become a national emergency.  We’ve had almost 50,000 illegal arrivals by boat, a thousand or more deaths at sea.  The problem is getting worse.  This government can’t solve it.  We are announcing today that under a Coalition government we will swiftly implement Operation Sovereign Borders,” said Abbott.
 
Riz Wakil came to Australia by boat more than a decade ago.  The Hazara refugee from central Afghanistan now runs a successful printing firm in Sydney.  He’s horrified how mainstream politicians are portraying the asylum seeker issue.
 
“Both sides of the politics are convinced that if we demonize refugees, rather than focusing on education, on disability pension and all the other issues that matters to Australian people, if we are cruel enough to demonize the refugees and portray them as intruders, they are coming to invade Australia and they will destroy our society, somehow we will win the next election,” noted Wakil.
 
Since January more than 16,000 unauthorized migrants have arrived in Australia by boat.  For the whole of last year, the figure was 17,000.  The surge has created great political pressure on the government, which responded with its plan for Papua New Guinea, Australia’s nearest neighbor.
 
But Lucy Fiske from the University of Sydney believes the asylum seeker issue has become overblown, drowning out other economic and political policies that have a greater impact on Australians' lives.  “There is still a relatively small number of people coming if we look at it in global terms, or in the UK would receive at least five, maybe ten times as many asylum seekers as Australia, even at our highest years, and yet if you look at our news media and listen to our politicians at the moment you would think it was the only issue,” she said.
 
In Sydney’s blue-collar western suburbs, many voters support the government’s hardline plan to stop asylum seekers.
 
“I don’t think they have the right to live here and they shouldn’t come," a woman exclaimed. "I’m Australian.  I believe in the White policy.”
 
“They are, what do you call them, financial refugees. You know, if they can afford to spend that much money [to people smugglers], and look at all the people stuck in the camps that have to wait their turn,” one man said.
 
“I feel sorry for them because they are coming from Third World countries and people do not understand why they are leaving because of the war, because they can’t live there, either their house has been bombed, or something has gone wrong. That is why they come to Australia for a better life,” another woman stated.
 
Others seem quite angry about people coming in by boat.
 
The immigration debate in Australia is often toxic, especially ahead of an election on September 7.  To many voters, asylum seekers who come by boat are illegal migrants who are jumping in front of those who go through the legal immigration process. While others believe that this wealthy nation should be treating them far more humanely.

Since 1901, Australia has resettled more than 800,000 refugees.

You May Like

IS Militants Release 49 Turkish Hostages

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reports that no ransom was paid and no conditions accepted for the hostages' release; few details of the release are known More

Photogallery IS Attacks Send Thousands of Syrian Kurds Fleeing to Turkey

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 300 Kurdish fighters crossed into Syria from Turkey to defend a Kurdish area from attack by the Islamic militants More

Sierra Leone's Ebola Lockdown Continues

Thousands of health workers are going door to door in the West African country of 6 million, informing people of how to avoid Ebola, handing out soap More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: John from: Australia
August 21, 2013 7:13 PM
Australians probably wouldn't be so concerned if the asylum seekers seemed like they were from World Vision or something.- the mean is a well shod Islamic man with tens of thousands of dollars sent ahead to establish a beach head. Thousands fly to Indonesia, destroy their ID and then pay $10,000 to a people smuggler to get a boat to Christmas island (which is next to Indonesia). Pity the actual refugees mixed up in this, or those waiting in a camp somewhere.


by: Erik Kengaard
August 21, 2013 1:44 PM
I'd like to come to Australia for a better life. Where do I sign up?

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calaisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 19, 2014 5:04 PM
The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video CERN Accelerator Back in Business

The long upgrade of the Large Hadron Collider is over. The scientific instrument responsible for the discovery of the Higgs boson -- the so-called "God particle" -- is being brought up to speed in time for this month's 60th anniversary of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known by its French acronym CERN. Physicists hope the accelerator will help them uncover more secrets about the origins of the universe. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid