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Australia refugee ban: Turnbull says gates closed for illegal boat entry

Refugees advocacy groups hit back, calling it unnecessary and adding to refugees anguish. Children will be exempted from this rule. Photograph: (AFP)

WION Sydney, New South Wales, Australia Oct 30, 2016, 07.22 AM (IST)

Australia is planning to impose a lifetime ban on refugees or asylum seekers coming to the country illegally via boats. 

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Sunday announced that the Australian government is sending an "absolutely, unflinching, unequivocal message" that boat people will not be allowed to enter the country. 

"This is a battle of will between the Australian people, represented by its government, and the criminal gangs of people-smugglers," he said. 

"You should not underestimate the scale of the threat. These people-smugglers are the worst criminals imaginable. They have a multibillion-dollar business".

"It is a critically important, strong message to send to the people smugglers, they must know that the door to Australia is closed to those who seek to come here by boat with a people smuggler. It is closed. We accept thousands of refugees and we do so willingly but we will not tolerate any repeat of people smuggling ventures which resulted in over 1,200 deaths at sea under the Labor party and 50,000 unauthorised arrivals," Reuters quoted Turnbull as saying.

However, children would be exempted from this amendment. 

UNICEF has hit back at the proposal, calling it unreasonable and unnecessary. 

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The government is looking to amend the Migration Act (1958) and will introduce the bill in the next Parliamentary sitting. 

This is not the first time that the Australian government has tried to amend the Act. 

In 2013, former Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd had declared,"As of today, asylum-seekers who come here by boat without a visa will never be settled in Australia," AFP reported. 

All refugees and asylum seekers are sent to the Pacific islands of Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus for processing. 

The new proposal will impact the people sent to these islands, including the ones who went back home or took asylum in a different country from July 19, 2013 onwards. 

Save the Children, a refugee advocacy group has said this will alleviate the refugees' trauma. 

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Mat Tinkler, the group's director of policy and public advocacy in Australia said, "We have grave concerns that this kind of announcement will push people over the edge."

"The government must act urgently to give hope to these people, not continue to take it away," he added. 

Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre lawyer, David Manne, said this proposal will punish genuine people, who are in need of asylum. 

"This does nothing to address that fundamental question about where they are going to be taken so that they can rebuild their lives in safety and with dignity," he added. 

Australia has granted refuge to 18,750 people in recent years from 13,750 and has also agreed to take 12,000 people displaced from war-torn Syria and Iraq. 

(WION with inputs from agencies)

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