Alexander Van der Bellen, who campaigned on moderation and tolerance, won Austria’s presidential election in Europe. But in the search for explanations as to how the country came close to electing a far-right populist as its president, some have suggested that support for Norbert Hofer was driven in part by the 2015 refugee crisis, during which more than 85,000 asylum claims were lodged in Austria.
Whatever the merits of that argument, there is no doubt that rising support for populist parties is the elephant in the room for much of Europe’s asylum debate. If Europe doesn’t keep its borders closed, the argument goes, voters will abandon mainstream parties for those willing to do whatever it takes to keep migrants out.
Earlier this year, Foreign Affairs Minister Sebastian Kurz called for the EU to adopt “parts of the Australian model,” including offshore detention and processing, boat pushbacks, and Australia’s policy that irregular entry precludes an asylum application. Some Danish politicians have expressed similar interest.
The Australian approach is no model for Europe.
To start with, Australia’s arrangements with Nauru and Papua New Guinea are costly. The Australian government hasn’t regularly released detailed accounts of its expenditures on the offshore facilities, but it’s clear from the numbers it has provided that the price tag is something on the order of €240,000 per person per year. That figure doesn’t include the cost of the Coast Guard’s interdiction operations, the payouts the Australian government may have made to smugglers to turn boats back to Indonesia, and the €38 million it is known to have paid Cambodia to accept a handful of refugees from Nauru.
What’s more, these offshore arrangements are only temporary. Nauru has said it expects the refugees it holds to move elsewhere at some point. Papua New Guinea’s government has conceded, in response to a ruling by that country’s supreme court, that its Manus Island facility must be closed as soon as possible.