Austria’s foreign minister says the European Union should follow the controversial “Australian example” and lock up the refugees on some islands to block their access to Europe’s mainland.
In a Sunday interview with the Austrian Die Presse daily, Sebastian Kurz said that the move would discourage refugees from leaving their home countries and risking their lives in perilous sea journeys in the Mediterranean in the quest of a better life in Europe.
“The Australian model of course cannot be completely replicated but its principles can be applied in Europe,” said Kurz.
“A refugee, who stays on an island like the [the Greek island of] Lesbos with no chance of receiving asylum, will be more willing to return voluntarily, as someone who has moved into an apartment in Vienna or Berlin,” he added.
Australia denies settlement to refugees attempting to reach the country by boat. The refugee boats are intercepted and sent to the remote islands of Christmas and Manus in Papua New Guinea and Nauru in the South Pacific, where they are kept in reportedly inhumane conditions, and held indefinitely while their refugee applications are processed.
The Canberra-run camps have been widely criticized by human rights agencies for harsh conditions and reports of systemic child abuse.
Kurz went on to say that such a model was successfully adopted in the US back in the first half of the 20th century, when US-bound European emigrants were kept on Ellis Island before being able to enter the mainland.
He criticized the recent EU-Turkey refugee deal and said such an agreement results in “dangerous dependency” since Ankara might at any time terminate the cooperation.
He said the 28-nation bloc needs to be strong enough to “protect its borders and to decide for themselves who can come to Europe and who can not.”
Based on the deal, which was struck in March, boat refugees arriving on European soil via the Aegean Sea may be sent back to Turkey.
For each refugee returned, the EU will take one Syrian refugee currently living in Turkey. In return, the EU has made several commitments to Ankara, including financial aid and progress in negotiations on its membership to the bloc.
Europe is facing an unprecedented influx of refugees, most of whom are fleeing conflict zones in Africa and the Middle East, particularly Syria. They attempt entry into Europe without applying for a visa. The influx has crippled the bloc, particularly the countries on its external borders.
Since 2015, thousands of refugees have lost their lives in perilous boat journeys in the Mediterranean.
Many blame major European powers for the unprecedented exodus, saying their policies have led to a surge in terrorism and war in those regions, forcing more people to flee their homes.