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

    Video For Many US Veterans, the Vietnam War Continues

    More than 40 years after it ended, war in Vietnam and America’s role in it continue to provoke bitter debate, especially among those who fought in it

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    100 immigrants graduated Friday as US citizens in New York, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in cities across country

    Family's Fight Pays Off With Arlington Cemetery Burial Rights for WASPs

    Policy that allowed the Women Airforce Service Pilots veterans to receive burial rites at Arlington had been revoked in 2015

    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.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora