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UN Official Criticizes Australia Refugee Policy - 2001-10-31


Australia's uncompromising policy on asylum seekers has again come under fire, this time from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers. The Australian government rejects the criticism and stands by its policy.

U.N. refugee official Ruud Lubbers says Australia's policy undermines the morale of aid workers in Pakistan who are coping with the flow of refugees escaping the war in neighboring Afghanistan.

Mr. Lubbers says his criticism of the Australian government reflects the growing anger in countries, such as Pakistan, that are struggling to cope with refugees. Mr. Lubbers made the comments in Pakistan.

The former Dutch diplomat has insisted Australia should do more to help. "They should support our efforts here," he said. "They should support efforts for reconstruction, that we just discussed in Afghanistan, the projects we are already doing. And they should refrain from the type of policies, not only against Afghans, [that] keep them out. It is not very encouraging for a high commissioner for refugees, but it is very de-motivating for all humanitarian workers and there is not an alliance. When we have an alliance against terrorism, then there should be also an alliance for humanity."

Australian immigration minister Philip Ruddock rejects Mr. Lubber's criticism. He says the policy of turning away asylum seekers is stemming the tide of refugees trying to reach Australia.

Most of the asylum seekers are from the Middle East and Afghanistan, and many set sail for Australia on rickety boats they board in Indonesia.

Mr. Ruddock says the government will not buckle to international pressure and will maintain its tough stance. The policy has given the government a lift in its campaigning ahead of the November election.

While Australia is turning back boatloads of asylum seekers trying to enter the country illegally, it accepts thousands of legal migrants.\

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