SYDNEY (AFP) – Australia on Thursday revealed it has turned back 12 asylum-seeker boats and prevented 45 more from leaving port as it lifted the veil of secrecy over its hardline border protection policy.
The admission coincided with the first anniversary of Operation Sovereign Borders, introduced when the government came to power to tackle almost daily arrivals under the previous Labor administration.
The policy has been shrouded in secrecy, particularly the controversial turning back of boats, with Immigration Minister Scott Morrision refusing to comment on “operational matters”.
But he relented Thursday, while praising cooperation from countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka.
“A total of 45 ventures have been stopped before they even set sail through disruption operations with partner countries and 12 ventures, with 383 people on board, have been turned back at sea, as we promised we would do,” he said.
The first turn-back occurred in December last year and the most recent in May.
“There have been no deaths at sea since last year compared with over 300 missing, confirmed or presumed deaths at sea in the year prior to Operation Sovereign Borders under the Labor government,” he added.
All the turn-backs were to Indonesia with six of them occurring when Australian authorities accidentally breached Indonesian territorial waters, sparking a diplomatic spat.
Despite this, Morrison said the cooperation from Jakarta and other nations had been crucial, particularly in preventing boats bound for Australia from leaving.