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A Lifeline for Asia’s Boat People

CANBERRA – Sometimes countries arrive at good policy only after exhausting all available alternatives. So it has been with Australia’s belated embrace this month, after years of political wrangling, of a new “hard-headed but not hard-hearted” approach to handling seaborne asylum seekers.

The core of the problem – and what has made it an international issue rather than just a domestic Australian problem – is that the would-be refugees (mainly from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, and Sri Lanka) have been dying in harrowing numbers. In the last three years alone, more than 600 men, women, and children have drowned – and these are just the documented cases – while attempting the long and hazardous journey to Australian shores in often-ramshackle boats run by smugglers operating from Southeast Asia.