- - Sunday, February 7, 2016

The immigrant surge throughout the world is not just south to north. Migrants are surging to Australia, too, and Australia’s highest court has ordered a temporary respite from a migrant threat like that in Europe and North America.

Australia’s high standard of living, freedom from religious persecution and a broad welfare net makes the land down under a target for millions of Asians. Many migrants are legitimate refugees seeking shelter for life and limb, but many others are economic migrants chasing jobs or professional careers.

In a test case involving a Bangladeshi woman, the Australian high court ruled that the strategy of holding migrants in New Guinea and on the equatorial island of Nauru until questions about status satisfies the law. Despite being a verified refugee whose status is sanctioned by the Nauruan government, the woman can be confined to the island’s immigration detention center.

The government in Canberra worries that a surge of migrants from South Asia will grow from the manageable tide of refugees and migrants seeking Australian asylum. With the archipelago of some 20,000 islands, a thousand of them permanently inhabited, on its northern flank, the Australians face the threat of such an invasion. Though Indonesia says it is committed to helping Australia suppress the human traffic, there’s a working network of assistance exploiting Asians on the journey. Australia has had to deal with occasional outbreaks, familiar elsewhere, among recent radical Islamic immigrants.

Instability makes Southeast Asia and South Asia a fertile source of migration. An explosion of ethnic violence between Buddhists and the Rohingya, a Muslim sect in southwestern Burma, has produced a refugee crisis. Many minority groups in Burma, as Myanmar called itself until recently, have long histories of revolt against the independent government of the former British colony. Many Rohingya, who trace their ancestors to the eighth century, are descended from migrants from neighboring Bangladesh. Despite their commitment to pacifism, Buddhists have clashed with Rohingya, violence answering violence, and Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel prize leader of a democratic movement to wrest power from the Burmese military, declines to publicly take sides in the dispute.

The Pakistani woman, who had been taken to Australia for medical treatment, does not have the full protection of Australian law and the case could have immediate ramifications for 80 children being detained in refugee camps, including a five-year-old boy who was sexually assaulted on Nauru. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton promises to take a “compassionate” approach, but he says that “the last thing I want is for boats to start again and, as we’re seeing in Europe at the moment. There are thousands of people who are willing to pay people smugglers to get onto boats to come to countries like Australia. We’ve been able to stamp out that trade, and I don’t want it to start again. I don’t want our detention centers to fill up again.”

The Australian court’s ruling runs contradictory to rulings in American courts, which have consistently said that Constitutional guarantees of personal liberty afforded to American citizens extend to foreigners who make it to American soil. But the law, and not the scimitar, will sort it out.

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