SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Thursday ruled out helping to resettle the wave of migrants fleeing to South-east Asia, saying it would worsen the problem and "encourage people to get on boats".
Abbott, whose conservative government employs tough measures to stop boat people, said Australia "will do absolutely nothing that gives any encouragement to anyone to think that they can get on a boat, that they can work with people-smugglers to start a new life".
"Nope, nope, nope," the Australian leader said when questioned by reporters about whether he would offer resettlement to the migrants from Myanmar's oppressed Muslim Rohingya minority and Bangladesh.
"If we do the slightest thing to encourage people to get on the boats, this problem will get worse, not better," he said.
Nearly 3,000 migrants have swum to shore or been rescued off Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand over the past 10 days after a Thai crackdown on human-trafficking threw the illicit trade into chaos, with some of the syndicates involved abandoning their helpless human cargo at sea.
Abbott said Australia's role was to do all it could to end people smuggling, which he reiterated was key to stopping the migrant boats.
"The best way to do that is to make it absolutely crystal clear that if you get on a leaky boat, you aren't going to get what you want, which is a new life in a Western country," he said.
Australia's government introduced a military-led operation to turn back boats carrying asylum seekers before they reach the island continent after coming into power in September 2013.
It has credited the controversial policy for the nation going 18 months with virtually no asylum seeker boat arrivals and no reported deaths at sea, but human rights advocates have slammed the policy for violating Australia's international obligations.
Before the policy was introduced, boats were arriving almost daily with hundreds of people drowning en route.