The Australian prime minister says his government will not accept boats carrying migrants, many of whom are Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya Muslims who flee violence in their own country, saying it would worsen the problem and “encourage people to get on boats.”
“If we do the slightest thing to encourage people to get on the boats, this problem will get worse, not better,” Tony Abbott said Thursday.
Abbott said his country will do all it can to end people-smuggling, which he said was key to stopping the migrant boats.
Canberra “will do absolutely nothing that gives any encouragement to anyone to think that they can get on a boat, that they can work with people-smugglers to start a new life”, he said.
Abbot, whose government employs tough measures to stop boat people, also said it was important to make it crystal clear that those who board “leaky boats” should not think that they were getting a ticket to a “Western country.”
“If you want a better life, you need to come through the front door,” he said.
Abbott’s conservative government follows a policy that does not make public details about operations to turn back vessels carrying asylum-seekers. In a rare report in January, Australia, however, disclosed that 15 boats carrying 429 asylum seekers had been returned since the start of the turn-back operations in September 2013.
Meanwhile, Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman and his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudia announced at a joint press briefing on Wednesday that the two countries would offer shelter to thousands of migrants, including Rohingya Muslims, adrift at sea on rickety boats.
The Muslim two foreign ministers earlier met with Thai Foreign Minister Tanasak Patimapragorn in the Malaysian capital to discuss the influx of migrants. Thailand, however, refrained from participating in the offer, with Tanasak saying he must check with his government first.
The non-Muslim Thai government has been criticized for pushing boatloads of Rohingya Muslims entering Thai waters back out to sea, and for holding migrants in overcrowded facilities.
Over the past 10 days, nearly 3,000 migrants have swum to shore or been rescued off Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. Malaysia’s intelligence estimates put the number of migrants still stranded at sea at about 7,000 people.
The Rohingya Muslim minority group has witnessed attacks by extremist Buddhists in Myanmar. The violence has forced nearly 100,000 of them to flee the country.
According to the United Nations, the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. They have faced torture, neglect and repression since Myanmar’s independence in 1948. Rohingya refugees mostly flee to neighboring countries such as Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.
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