Human Rights Watch has criticized what it calls Australia's "cruel" and "pernicious" attempts to deter asylum seekers, saying the policies are undermining its leadership role on human rights in Asia.
Under Australia's current policy, refugees seeking asylum are sent by boat to Papua New Guinea or Nauru, where they are held in detention centers described by some as inhumane.
The policy, which began under the previous Labor government, has been tightened under the more conservative administration of Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Currently, boats of asylum seekers are turned back by the military at sea.
In its annual world report
, Human Rights Watch said "successive Australian governments have engaged in populist politics in 2013 at the expense of the rights of asylum seekers and refugees." It accused Australia's two major political parties of being "hell-bent on using cruel policies to deter asylum seekers, even at the expense of the country's reputation."
Hundreds of refugees have drowned in recent years trying to make the journey to Australian territory in flimsy boats. Many were fleeing unrest in South Asia and the Middle East. The Australian government maintains its policies are meant to discourage people smugglers from carrying out the unsafe journeys.