04 September 2015
by Nicole Hasham

New York Times attacks Prime Minister Tony Abbott over 'stop the boats' policy

Asylum seekers inside the compound on Nauru.

The New York Times has launched a blistering attack on the Abbott government's asylum seeker policies, suggesting they are "unconscionable" and urging European nations struggling with a tide of migrants not to follow suit.

The media outlet singled out Prime Minister Tony Abbott in an editorial on Thursday that indicates Australia's reputation is suffering in the eyes of some international observers under the government's hardline efforts to "stop the boats".

Immigration detention camp on Nauru.

It described Mr Abbott's policies as "inhumane, of dubious legality and strikingly at odds with the country's tradition of welcoming people fleeing persecution and war".

It suggested asylum seekers who arrive in Australia's offshore detention network are forced into conditions "more hopeless and degrading than the ones that prompted them to flee".

"Some European officials may be tempted to adopt the hard-line approach Australia has used to stem a similar tide of migrants. That would be unconscionable," the editorial said.
But a spokesman for Immigration Minister Peter Dutton (right) said Australia "has a lot to be proud of", citing a dramatic reduction in the numbers of children in detention and an end to reported deaths at sea of asylum seekers headed to Australia.

A Senate report into the Nauru detention facility this week concluded conditions were "not adequate, appropriate or safe" for asylum seekers, and called for children to be immediately released.

The Times editorial said the report revealed a "purgatory where children are sexually abused, guards give detainees marijuana in exchange for sex and some asylum seekers are so desperate that they stitch their lips shut in an act of protest".

But instead of stopping the abuses, the Australian government has "sought to hide them from the world".

It criticised the Border Force Act, which threatens employees at detention camps with two years in prison if they disclose conditions inside. It also criticised Nauru for raising the cost of journalists' visas from $200 to about $8000.

Fairfax Media revealed in June Australian border protection officials allegedly paid people smugglers to return asylum seekers intercepted north of Australia en route to New Zealand.

Indonesian officials have been investigating claims that crew members were paid $5000 each.

The Times editorial said if true, the payments represented "a violation of international laws".

In April Mr Abbott suggested European nations must "stop the boats" to prevent people dying at sea, adding "that's why it is so urgent that the countries of Europe adopt very strong policies that will end the people smuggling trade across the Mediterranean".

The Times said while some European leaders seem inclined to take his advice and aggressively intercept boats, they should resist the urge.

"It is inexcusable that some [refugees and economic migrants] find themselves today in situations that are more hopeless and degrading than the ones that prompted them to flee," it said.

Mr Dutton's spokesman said the migrant situation in Europe was "a human tragedy" and "Australia has a lot to be proud of".

There had not been a reported death at sea since Operation Sovereign Borders began "while 1200 people lost their lives on risky journeys to Australia under Labor governments who failed to secure our borders", the spokesman said.

Under Labor there were 2000 children in detention while the Coalition had reduced this to about 100 "and is assiduously working to lower that number".

"By returning integrity to our borders we have been able to restore the integrity of our humanitarian intake of refugees from around the world to be the most generous resettlement nation in the world on a per capita basis," he said.

It is not the first time The New York Times has taken aim at the Australia's hardline border security stance. Last year it said the "boat people" issue was being exploited by Australian politicians of all sides in a way that "does Australia's otherwise commendable record on refugees no good".