United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage has described former Prime Minister Tony Abbott as “heroic” for his stance on asylum seekers.
Speaking at the second annual Margaret Thatcher Lecture in London to an audience of conservatives, Mr Abbott urged Europe’s leaders to turn back asylum seekers, or risk “catastrophic disaster”.
“It will gnaw at our consciences,” he said.
“Yet it is the only way to prevent a tide of humanity surging through Europe and quite possibly changing it forever.”
Speaking to Radio National, Mr Farage called Mr Abbott “heroic” and “absolutely right”.
“There is a very big difference between being a civilised country that recognises that there are genuine refugees from time to time and having a lunatic policy, that I’m afraid [German chancellor Angela Merkel] has pushed, saying ‘Please, world, come here, we’re pleased to have you’,” he said.
“What we’ve seen even from the EU’s own figures is that over 80 per cent of those that are coming are economic migrants, they’re not people who qualify for refugee services at all, and I think Tony Abbott is absolutely bang-on with his comments.”
Mr Farage said the European Union had been “utterly irresponsible” in its approach to asylum seekers, encouraging mass migration.
“Thousands of people are dying … they’re drowning in the Mediterranean, they’re in the hands of people traffickers and now we’ve got winter coming, so goodness knows what that’s going to mean for people living in some pretty cold parts of the Balkans or elsewhere,” he said.
“I said myself six months ago … if we sent the wrong message, there’d be an exodus of biblical proportions, and that’s exactly what’s happened.”
However, Refugee Council of Australia president Phil Glendenning slammed Mr Abbott’s call, saying such action would cost, not save, lives.
“In terms of what Mr Abbott’s proposing in Europe, it would be an utter catastrophe if people fleeing from persecution were told to go back there, were pushed back to sea where they would quite likely drown,” he said.
“I find it very disappointing that an Australian Prime Minister would say this.”
Mr Glendenning said he believed many European countries were more interested in “saving” people than “stopping” them, citing his recent visits to Italy and Malta.
“There’s a fundamental right in international law for people to escape persecution and to seek protection and by any measure, by any means,” he said.
“Sending them back to the persecution that they are fleeing takes away a fundamental plank of the civilisation that we’ve held dear for the last 50 or so years.”