CANBERRA, Australia – Europeans grappling with mass migration from Libya were seeking information about Australia's controversial success in stopping asylum seeker boats reaching its shores, the Australian prime minister said Monday.
Refugee advocates and human rights groups have criticized Prime Minister Tony Abbott's conservative government over drastic tactics it has used under its Operation Sovereign Borders policy to stop the flow of people-smuggling boats heading from Indonesian ports with asylum seekers from Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
Abbott did not identify which European country or countries had sought Australian advice.
"My understanding is that there has been some contact at official level between Australian people and Europeans," Abbott told reporters.
"Obviously Operation Sovereign Borders is an object lesson in how to do the right thing by everyone. Do the right thing by our people and ultimately do the right thing by poor, misguided people who for all sorts of reasons want a better life but who very often end up dead if they succumb to the lure of the people smugglers," he said.
Australia deters asylum seekers by refusing to allow those attempting to arrive by boat to ever settle in Australia.
Australia pays poor Pacific nations Nauru and Papua New Guinea to keep asylum seekers in detention camps. Australia has also agreed to pay Papua New Guinea and Cambodia to resettle genuine refugees under bilateral deals that critics argue are an abrogation of Australia's responsibilities under the Refugee Convention.
Since Abbott's coalition was elected in September 2013, Australian Navy and Customs boats have routinely turned asylum seeker boats back to Indonesia.
Indonesia complains that sending foreigner to its shores is disrespectful of Indonesian sovereignty, but few of the boats are now intercepted in the waters north of Australia.
During the previous Labor Party's six-year reign, about 50,000 asylum seekers people headed for Australia in more than 800 boats.
In Italy, the Coast Guard and Navy as well as tugs and other commercial vessels joined forces to rescue migrants in at least 16 boats Sunday, saving hundreds of them and recovering 10 bodies off Libya's coast, as smugglers took advantage of calm seas to send packed vessels across the Mediterranean.
The Coast Guard said the bodies were found in three separate rescue operations off Libya's coast. In one case, a cargo ship found three migrants dead and 105 survivors on a dinghy in the waters north of Tripoli, Libya.
Sunday's drama came a day after 3,690 migrants were saved from smugglers' boats. Most of those migrants were still being taken to southern Italian ports even as the fresh rescues were taking place.
The soaring numbers sparked the latest round of calls from far-right politicians in Europe for drastic action to stop migrants from reaching European shores.