I agree with the second half of your last paragraph, absolutely! Protectionist policies that do nothing to improve situations elsewhere are just pointless macho posturing, and I despise them.
However, I don’t agree that they should be sent back. Let me explain why.
Australia accepts roughly 200k immigrants in its annual migration programme. For a country with a population of ~24 million, this is substantial.
For context, the number of irregular boat arrivals was 5000 during its peak in the 2013 election year.
However, the number of legitimate refugees was, on average, 94%. At its lowest in a given year, it was 89% — at its highest, 97.8%. Nothing to sneeze at.
‘Legitimate’ was defined as ‘fleeing violence, persecution and war’. These were not economic refugees. They were literally running for their lives.
I won’t go too deeply into the details here, because it will quite literally take up 5000 words. However, from our most documented cases, those who were sent back (of those we could track, at least) after the adoption of the ‘Stop The Boats’ policy fell victim to what they were fleeing.
The original justification for the policy was to prevent drownings, although this quickly devolved into dog whistling and racist rabble rousing.
Were people drowning during the crossing? Absolutely. It was horrible. In one year, we had something awful like 200 casualties.
However, evidence suggests that the same number resulted from turning boats back. (It’s hard to gauge the number of boat arrivals now, because the Australian Government refuses to release figures under the pretense of “Operational Matters”, which is a hamfisted way to avoid accountability, but that’s a conversation for another time).
To your original point though, we were forced into a dichotomous discussion upon the adoption of this policy. You were either for or against boat arrivals, and that was that. No nuance. No strategy. Just a yes or no question, and it’s resulted in our current predicament.
Makes you lament the lack of critical thinking in any public discourse. I don’t even necessarily have to agree with the solution — but I’d like it if said solutions weren’t reduced to three word slogans, as in this country.