How Britain could learn from Australia’s mistakes in dealing with migrant boats

In the UK in 2021, in the wake of the brutal tragedy of 27 lives lost in the frigid waters of the Channel, the British prime minister Boris Johnson has sounded, to Australian ears, extraordinarily familiar.

Australia has promoted itself globally as a country with a solution. But an examination of the facts of Australia’s asylum policies reveals a pernicious cost: legal, moral, financial, but above all, human.

Asylum seekers, most coming from Indonesia or Sri Lanka, were forced by Australia’s navy to turn their boats around — on occasion skippers were bribed by Australian officials to go back. Others were towed back outside Australian waters. Others still were put into lifeboats with just enough fuel to reach Indonesia’s closest islands.

But turnbacks have raised legal issues around refoulement — sending people back to harm.