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UN Criticizes Australian Refugee Policy

  • Phil Mercer

FILE - Police guard a wooden boat carrying ethnic Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Australian officials say their policies have prevented asylum seekers from risking their lives at sea trying to reach Australia by boat.

FILE - Police guard a wooden boat carrying ethnic Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Australian officials say their policies have prevented asylum seekers from risking their lives at sea trying to reach Australia by boat.

Australia’s refugee policies were condemned during a review by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The criticism comes as officials said violent disturbances at a center for migrants on Christmas Island were being contained.

Australia automatically detains asylum-seekers who arrive in the country without visas. Hundreds of detainees are sent for processing to offshore camps in the South Pacific in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

At a hearing in Geneva Monday, more than 100 countries spoke out against Australia’s refugee policies, with many calling for Canberra to scrap the detention of children and offshore processing.

Fair treatment of detainees

Divya Khosla, U.S. representative to the U.N. agency, said Australia must ensure that detainees are treated fairly.

FILE - An Australian Navy boat, left, is positioned near a boat carrying 50 asylum seekers after it arrived at Flying Fish Cove on Christmas Island. The island's detention center for migrants was recently the scene of violent disturbances.

FILE - An Australian Navy boat, left, is positioned near a boat carrying 50 asylum seekers after it arrived at Flying Fish Cove on Christmas Island. The island's detention center for migrants was recently the scene of violent disturbances.

“We encourage Australia to ensure humane treatment and respect for the human rights of asylum-seekers, including those processed offshore in Papua New Guinea and Nauru,” Kholsa said.

But Steve McGlynn of Australia's Immigration and Border Protection Department told the hearing that the policies had prevented asylum-seekers from risking their lives at sea by trying to reach Australia by boat, and put pressure on people-trafficking syndicates.

“Australia's border policies have been successful in severely damaging the insidious people smuggling trade, and by extension have saved countless lives at sea," McGlynn said.

"The ensuing substantial and sustained reduction in maritime ventures as a result of Australia's managed approach to migration has resulted in Australia being able to settle more refugees for our humanitarian programs,” he added.

Unrest at center

At the Christmas Island detention center, authorities said disturbances that broke out Sunday have ended.

They were sparked when a Kurdish-Iranian inmate who had escaped the camp was found dead outside. Inmates lit fires and barricaded themselves in a compound with weapons.

Officials said that calm has been restored following negotiations with detainees.

Christmas Island is located about 2,500 kilometers northwest of the Australian city of Perth and 380 kilometers south of the Indonesian island of Java.

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