Locals in Geraldton, Western Australia this week witnessed a boat carrying around 70 Sri Lankan asylum seekers enter the busy port.

Steve Ranch, who manages a local cafe, told Stuff.co.nz: “At first people weren’t sure what was going on.

“We thought it was a hoax or a publicity stunt, but then we saw the customs towing it away.”

Banners on board the boat suggested the refugees weren’t actually headed for Australia, but rather attempting to reach New Zealand.

Curtin University Centre for Human Rights and Education researcher Dr Caroline Fleay said the message Australia is sending out to refugees is that their prospects on shore remain grim. There is the issue of lengthy detentions and the worry of being held offshore indefinitely. The idea of New Zealand is much more appealing.

“I think what it says about our country is that we have become increasingly hostile as a country towards people who come here, the majority of who have been consistently found to be refugees,” Fleay said.

“The more barriers we put in place to prevent people coming to Australia and making a claim for refugee status, the more we’re carrying out acts of cruelty to some of the world’s most vulnerable people.”

Australian Lawyers Alliance committee member Jonathan Davies says arriving in New Zealand is a much more desirable option.

“They won’t be imprisoned in New Zealand, they’ll be accommodated and treated properly,” he said.

“We don’t honour the spirit of the treaties that we’ve signed up to and our politicians actively encourage the public to have disregard for international law and we punish the very people who come to us for protection.

“One day we’ll be called to account for it.”

Image: Getty