Tough love? Australia's Abbott says turning away migrants saves lives.

Facing an immigration crisis, some European politicians seem tempted by Australia's hardline policies. But human rights advocates warn the result may be more deaths, not fewer. 

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    Migrants sailing from Turkey arrive at the Greek island of Lesbos. Some politicians, including Australian PM Tony Abbott, argue that deaths at sea are best prevented by strictly limiting immigration.
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Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott says there is a clear solution for the chaos unfolding as unprecedented numbers of migrants race towards Europe: turn them back.

The ongoing immigration crisis intensified this week, particularly in Budapest, Hungary, where thousands of migrants remain stranded in streets around the train station. Pictures of Aylan Kurdi, a Syrian toddler who drowned off the coast of Turkey, also elicited calls for greater immigration quotas from citizens, clergy, and lawmakers.

Mr. Abbott, however, firmly stands by Australia’s hardline policy: the Navy routinely sends migrant boats back to Indonesia, where most began their journey; settles them in other countries; or redirects asylum seekers to offshore processing centers, which many claim are rife with abuses. 

The Prime Minister argues that such tough tactics save lives. "If you want to stop the deaths, if you want to stop the drownings you have got to stop the boats,” he told ABC Radio on Friday. 

Abbott has encouraged European leaders to follow suit, and they may be listening. On Thursday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said it would be a “moral failure” to encourage migrants, and told them, “Please don’t come,” suggesting that it would be safer to stay in Turkey, a frequent stop en route to Western Europe.

Hungary has attracted criticism for a recent set of like-minded actions. In addition to holding migrants in limbo in Budapest, where authorities have refused to let migrants journey on to other countries before they are registered, Hungary is constructing a fence along its border with Serbia. Moreover, Orban has said explicitly that he does not want Muslim migrants, defending Hungary’s “right to decide” who lives there.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has also hesitated to accept migrants beyond the 5,000 Syrian refugees the UK has taken in over four years. Instead, Cameron has focused efforts on stabilizing conditions in migrants’ home countries, as well as supporting refugee camps in the Middle East.

But on Friday, Mr. Cameron changed his mind, announcing that Britain would take in "thousands more" Syrian refugees, according to Reuters.

Cameron did not specify how many migrants the UK would take in, but said they would need to come from Middle Eastern refugee camps, to spare them “the hazardous journey which has tragically cost so many of their lives.”

However, many critics question whether hardline policies will improve migrants’ chances, or drive them towards more dangerous paths.

Australia’s offshore detention centers are the focus of particularly strong condemnation. On Thursday, the editorial board of The New York Times called the policy “unconscionable” and possibly in violation of international law.

Despite what the Times call “purgatory” conditions, detailed in an Australian Senate report and brought to light by dozens of center employees, a law enacted July 1 makes it illegal for staff to publicly discuss their work, making it near-impossible to report abuses.

As the Australian Human Rights Law Center has pointed out, at one center, on Manus Island, more refugees have died than been resettled. 

 
 
 

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