SYDNEY: Heart-breaking images of a Syrian toddler washed up on a Turkish beach were a reminder of the need to stop people-smuggling boats, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Friday, as he stood firm on Canberra’s hardline immigration policies.
Photographs of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi lying dead on the sand as Europe grapples with its worst refugee crisis since World War II showed the “evil” nature of people-smuggling, Abbott said.
Australia’s conservative government introduced a military-led operation to turn back boats carrying asylum-seekers attempting to arrive on the mainland after it came to power in September 2013.
“It was an absolutely heart-rending photograph and I don’t think any parent could see that photograph without being devastated,” the Australian leader told reporters in Wodonga south of Canberra.
“I know that there has been quite a bit of interest in the policies that Australia has put in place, because if you do stop the people-smuggling trade . . . obviously you end the deaths at sea.
“The most compassionate thing you can do in the medium and long-term is to close down this evil trade.”
Under Australia’s immigration policy, asylum-seekers that arrive are sent to the Pacific islands of Nauru and Papua New Guinea to be processed and denied resettlement in Australia even if they are found to be refugees.
Canberra has declared the policy a success and in August marked a year since the last successful boat arrival, adding that 20 vessels carrying 633 asylum-seekers have been turned back since 2013.
Earlier this year the government said there have been no reported deaths at sea.
But rights groups have said Australia’s policy of sending asylum-seekers to offshore camps has been a “disaster” in the two years it has been in place.