The UK copying Australia’s refugee policy is a bad idea, refugee advocates say

The United Kingdom’s latest migration crackdown, its toughest yet, is almost a direct replication of Australia’s asylum seeker policy, and has refugee advocates warning the Australian system should be used as a cautionary tale, not a blueprint.

While British Conservative politicians insist it’s a bid to take greater control of arrivals, the United Nations’ refugee agency has said it’s “profoundly concerned” with the proposal.

Before we get into why advocates want the UK to ditch the policy, here’s a bit of info to get you up to speed.

What policy is the UK considering?
Introduced in the House of Commons earlier this month, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Illegal Migration Bill seeks to restrict asylum seekers from crossing the English channels in unauthorised boats.

If passed, they’d be barred from applying for protection, and face detention and deportation to their home country or a so-called “safe” third country.

They would also be prohibited from ever legally returning.

“This is how we will take back control of our borders,” said Mr Sunak, while standing behind a lectern with the words “Stop the Boats”.

“This is tough, but it is necessary, and it is fair.”

How is that similar to Australia’s?
The ‘Stop the Boats’ slogan is deeply ingrained in Australia’s tumultuous relationship with refugee policy.

It saw thousands of asylum seekers — fleeing war and persecution — become subject to indefinite offshore detention in prison camps on Manus Island and Nauru.

Catchy and politically powerful for Coalition ahead of the 2013 federal election, it became a staple of the debate between both major parties in the years that followed.

Mr Sunak has even acknowledged the laws are in line with what Australia does in banning people from ever entering the country in the future.

Madeline Gleeson, a senior research fellow at the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at UNSW, said she was disappointed to see a country implementing a policy based on Australia’s.

“What we’re seeing is an adaptation of Australian political strategy, not necessarily a law or policy that works well here,” she said.

“It is simply a matter of politics and rhetoric at the moment.”

Asher Hirsch from the Refugee Council of Australia echoed a similar sentiment, saying the slogan was dehumanising and undermines the right to seek asylum.

“This whole idea of stopping the boats really doesn’t address the heart of why people get on boats in the first place, doesn’t address the reason why people need to find safety elsewhere and it’s really shocking to see the UK adopt this campaign slogan,” Mr Hirsch said.

Australia introduced laws imposing strict secrecy requirements around its offshore detention scheme, restricting those working in the centres — originally including doctors raising concerns about patients — of speaking publicly, otherwise risking imprisonment.

“If we had known fully the extent of the harm and the suffering of people offshore, I think it would have been much harder for the government to sell that to Australian people,” Ms Gleeson said.