Australia ‘Leading The Region On Brutal Refugee Response’ As Vigils Call For Increased Intake


Australia’s punitive policies have failed to stem the displacement of refugees in the Asia-Pacific while emboldening other nations to follow suit, according to the head of a major regional organisation.

Anoop Sukumaran, Executive Director of the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network, is currently in Australia meeting civil society groups and MPs, and told New Matilda the country had lost its moral authority as well as its place at the table when it came to determining regional responses to refugee issues.

“You haven’t solved anything, you have just put it into somebody else’s backyard,” he said.

“It’s almost like saying ‘Don’t die here right in front of us, go and die somewhere else.’”

The comments come as Australians gathered at vigils around the country last night to pay their respects to Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian refugee whose death has become a symbol of the plight of refugees globally.

Thousands packed Sydney’s Hyde Park holding candles and applauding loudly as speakers urged the Australian government to take more refugees and close the offshore detention camps on Nauru and Manus Island. Labor is now calling for the government to extend 10,000 extra places in light of the humanitarian disaster in Syria.

While the policies of mandatory offshore detention and boat turn-backs enjoy bipartisan backing, and have stopped boats of asylum seekers arriving on Australian shores, Sukumaran told New Matilda they had done nothing to solve the broader issues causing people to flee their homelands.

His organisation, which represents a network of over 200 groups who provide assistance and advocacy for refugees in 26 countries, has seen the impact first hand.

“One of the biggest trends we’re seeing is countries closing their borders,” he said.

“Almost every single country has been doing that over the years. And unfortunately Australia’s policy has only strengthened the resolve of other countries to follow suit.”

Anoop Sukumaran, Executive Director of the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network.

After thousands of asylum seekers and migrants were left stranded at sea earlier in the year, Thailand and Malaysia bowed to international pressure to allow the vessels to land.

When asked if any of the stranded asylum seekers would be able to settle in Australia Prime Minister Tony Abbott responded with a now infamous refrain: “nope, nope, nope”.

While the much-discussed boat journeys from Java to Christmas Island have been made next to impossible, Sukumaran said the number of people coming to Indonesia had not diminished, and that conditions were so poor many asylum seekers were lining up to get into detention centres.

“There are almost 2,000 refugees who have been queuing up at International Organisation for Migration sponsored detention centres in order to get support,” he said.

“The conditions of people in many of these countries are quite dire.”

Max Chalmers is a former New Matilda journalist and editorial staff member. His main areas of interest are asylum seekers, higher education and politics.