Australia moved Sunday to bar any refugee or asylum-seeker who arrives in the country illegally by boat from ever being able to apply for a visa, even as tourists or for business.
The lifetime ban will be put to parliament when it next sits, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull saying it was necessary to send an "absolutely, unflinching, unequivocal message" that boat people will never be allowed in Australia.
"This is a battle of will between the Australian people, represented by its government, and the criminal gangs of people-smugglers," he said.
"You should not underestimate the scale of the threat. These people-smugglers are the worst criminals imaginable. They have a multibillion-dollar business.
Refugees who attempt to reach Australia illegally by boat will now face a lifetime ban. @JoelDry9 https://t.co/NgXoc2QLZ9 — Nine News Australia (@9NewsAUS) October 30, 2016
The Nauru facility holds just over 400 men, women and children.
Some 800 men are detained on Manus, which Australia in August agreed to close after a Papua New Guinea court ruling that holding people there was unconstitutional and illegal.
Rights group have alleged there is widespread abuse and self-harm in the camps.
Turnbull said the move would reinforce to refugee advocates still hoping Australia will accept some of those on Nauru or Manus that it will never happen.
"We have one of the most generous humanitarian programs in the world," he said. "But the only reason we can do it, the only reason it has the public acceptance that it does, is because we are in command of our borders." Australia has boosted its annual humanitarian refugee intake in recent years from 13,750 to 18,750, and has also agreed to take 12,000 displaced in Syria and Iraq.
The Govt will next month attempt to ban asylum seekers and refugees held offshore from ever coming to Australia. https://t.co/Ild2x7fQ72— ABC News 24 (@ABCNews24) October 30, 2016
New laws will stop asylum seekers who arrive by boat ever coming to Australia https://t.co/xz9WiwqNed #7News https://t.co/RH22NWBO72 — 7 News Queensland (@7NewsQueensland) October 30, 2016
Refugee advocates said the plan was unacceptable, with Save the Children fearing it will further exacerbate the mental anguish of those held in the Pacific camps.
"We have grave concerns that this kind of announcement will push people over the edge," said the organisation's director of policy and public advocacy in Australia Mat Tinkler.
"The government must act urgently to give hope to these people, not continue to take it away."
Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre lawyer David Manne agreed that the proposal punished genuine refugees.
"This does nothing to address that fundamental question about where they are going to be taken so that they can rebuild their lives in safety and with dignity," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Since the start of "Operation Sovereign Borders" in September 2013, the conservative government has managed to halt the flood of boat arrivals, and drownings, that characterised previous Labor administrations.
Labor said Sunday it had yet to decide whether to back the visa ban.
This lifetime ban squarely punishes refugees more than it creates a credible warning to people smugglers.— UNICEF Australia (@unicefaustralia) October 30, 2016
It's time for the Aust Govt to invest in a comprehensive regional solution to give asylum seekers and refugees other paths to protection. — UNICEF Australia (@unicefaustralia) October 30, 2016