Australia Defends Immigration Policy Against UN Criticism

Australia Defends Immigration Policy Against UN Criticism

File Photo of Refugees. (Reuters)

Sydney: Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has defended Australia's hardline policy on asylum-seekers against criticism from the United Nations, particularly from countries such as North Korea.

The UN's top human rights body took Australia to task on Monday over its policies of sending refugees to offshore Pacific islands and turning back boatloads of asylum-seekers to other countries.

"We were criticised by, I noted, Bangladesh, by Iran, by North Korea," Dutton told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation late Tuesday.

"Frankly, I think it belittles the UN process when you've got countries like North Korea trying to lecture our country in relation to human rights."

Despite the criticism of many of the country representatives who took part in the UN Human Rights Council review in Switzerland, Canberra contends that its policies have stopped asylum-seekers from risking their lives on boat journeys to Australia.

Dutton said while countries in Europe "obviously haven't yet been able to deal with their own breakdown in migration crossings", Australia had brought integrity to its borders and stemmed boat arrivals.

"The dividend of that is that we're offering on a permanent basis more places to refugees than any other of these countries," he said, referring to the extra 12,000 humanitarian refugee places Australia is offering to Syrians fleeing conflict in their homeland.

Australia has also been questioned by the Maori Party in neighbouring New Zealand over its detention of Kiwis at a strife-hit centre on Christmas Island, where authorities had to use tear gas to end two days of unrest on Tuesday.

As well as asylum-seekers, the facility on Christmas Island, which is an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, houses non-citizens awaiting deportation including criminals after Canberra began cancelling visas of those with convictions.

Maori Party's co-leader Marama Fox told the ABC on Wednesday the conditions in the centre and the length of time some detainees had been held there had helped trigger the unrest, which caused more than Aus$1 million (US$700,000) damage.

"Not just the waiting, but we have reports that people have been held in isolation for 23 hours a day, that they have been denied basic amenities like a bed, clothing, warmth," she said as she called on Canberra to allow observers into the centre.

Dutton rejected claims that some New Zealanders were being held at the facility for minor crimes such as shoplifting, but said there were many hardened criminals.

"If somebody is here on a visa, whether they're from New Zealand or elsewhere, if they've committed a crime they have their visa cancelled," he said.

"In this case they're taken into custody and they await deportation."

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