Even the “stop the boats” slogan boldly displayed across the Prime Minister’s podium as he unveiled the Illegal Migration Bill on Tuesday were borrowed from Tony Abbott, who used the phrase during his successful campaign to become Australia’s prime minister in 2013.
Critics also noticed the similarities.
Clare Moseley, founder of refugee charity Care4Calais, told i: “It’s a real shame, because we are following the model of Australia, but Australia is sort of widely regarded as being one of the most brutal regimes in the world, and yet that’s the record we’re choosing to follow.”
“It’s really going to change the human rights record of the UK,” she added.
The UNHCR, the United Nation’s refugee agency, has repeatedly condemned Australia’s detention of refugees and asylum seekers. Responding to the UK’s plans, the agency said it “is profoundly concerned by the Asylum Bill”.
It said it would be a “clear breach of the Refugee Convention” and would undermine Britain’s longstanding, humanitarian tradition if asylum seekers were denied protection and the opportunity to put forward their case.
Here i looks at some of the main similarities between the UK and Australia approaches and if the policies in the proposed legislation could work here.
The UK plan: If the new UK legislation on migration is passed, it will enable the Government to detain asylum seekers who enter the UK via small boats in the English Channel until they can be removed.
The Bill states that migrants may be detained for 28 days with no recourse for bail or judicial review, and then for as long as there is a reasonable prospect of removal.
In Australia: People who arrive in Australia via small boats are detained, in many cases indefinitely.
The UK plan: The Illegal Migration Bill states that the Government will consider applications for asylum remotely once people have been deported to a safe third country.
Only children under the age of 18 who are medically unfit to fly and those who are at “real risk of serious and irreversible harm” in the country they are facing deportation to will avoid fast-track removal.
In Australia: People who arrived in Australia by boat without a visa after 2012 were sent to offshore processing centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
Australia ended its policy of sending asylum seekers to detention centres in Nauruin 2019 and in Papua New Guinea in 2021, but migrants are still being sent to Nauru to live among the community. Some remain living in Papua New Guinea. Migrants in both countries are unable to return to Australia.
This week, legislation aimed at bringing 150 refugees and asylum seekers back to Australia from Papua New Guinea and Nauru while they await resettlement in a third country, likely New Zealand or the US, was defeated in Australia’s parliament.
Deportation and offshore resettling
The UK plan: Under the crackdown, asylum seekers who come to the UK via small boats will be prevented from using modern slavery legislation to avoid deportation.
Offshore resettling is the term for when people are removed from one country to continue their life in another.
The UK Government plans to transfer people who arrive via small boats to a safe third country within weeks of their arrival.
In Australia: Likewise in Australia, no one who travels illegally by boat is allowed to remain in the country.
The Government states: “Anyone who attempts an unauthorised boat voyage to Australia will be turned back to their point of departure, returned to their home country, or transferred to another country.”
It has also declared that even people confirmed to be refugees who arrive in the country via boat without authorisation will not be permitted to resettle in Australia. Instead they face removal to other countries.
In some cases, Australia turns back boats carrying asylum seekers that are not legally approved to land on its shores. Although UK Border Force have been trained to use certain “turn around” tactics, plans to roll out this method were dropped last year.
The UK plan: The UK is planning to open a new safe and legal route to resettle refugees, i‘s Arj Singh reported yesterday.
In partnership with the UNHCR, the Government is set to develop a new global route for refugees to avoid people crossing the Channel. However, Mr Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman have insisted that a new safe route will only be set up once Channel crossings have been reduced significantly.
In Australia: The Australian government says the only way to gain entry to its shores is with an Australian visa, having met the necessary requirements to obtain one.
Asylum seekers who arrive via approved channels can apply for protection inshore and refugees outside the country are also able to apply to resettle in Australia.
Has Australia’s crackdown on boat arrivals been a success?
Former Australian prime minister Scott Morrison, who played a key role in the design of the country’s strict migration polices, hailed the country’s response to unauthorised boat crossings as a success.
A photographer once captured a metal boat shaped ornament with the words “I stopped these” on his desk.
As of August 2022, 23 boats and 1,309 migrants arrived in Australia, while 44 vessels and 1,056 people were intercepted and returned, and 101 boats and 3,332 people had their journeys disrupted in cooperation with foreign countries, according to analysis by the Refugee Council of Australia.
It said the rapid drop in numbers after two peak periods 1999-2002 and 2009-2014 reflect a policy of forcibly returning boats.
Will the UK’s plan work?
The Home Secretary says the new legislation will make the number of arrivals via small boats “fall dramatically”.
Ms Braverman told the BBC: “We will see, based on other countries’ experiences, that once we’re able to relocate people who’ve come here illegally from the United Kingdom to another safe country, like Rwanda, or back to their own home country, then, actually, the numbers of people making the journey in the first place will fall dramatically.”
However, humanitarian organisations working with people who make the dangerous, and often deadly, Channel crossings via small boats disagree harsh policies are a deterrent.
Care4Calais founder Ms Moseley said: “The people who come are coming anyway, and they’re coming because of what they’re trying to escape from.”
She added that research showed the majority of people were not aware of the migration legislation of the country they were travelling to.
“People when they are fleeing, when they are on their journey, they don’t know anything about the legislation or the rules in any of the countries that they’re coming to.”