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Monday, 10 December, 2001, 16:40 GMT
Australia warns on refugee English
Refugees in Nauru who tried to get to Australia
Some may simply not be able to learn English
Australia's Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock has cautioned that teaching immigrants to speak English is hugely expensive and may have little effect.

There are a whole lot of issues about teaching English to new arrivals which will not necessarily give you a first generation where every family member can speak English

Australia Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock
Speaking at a conference in London, Mr Ruddock said Australia encouraged immigrants to learn the language but had discovered that some simply could not do it.

His comments came amid growing controversy over comments by UK Home Secretary David Blunkett that immigrants should acquire at least a "modest grasp of English".

Community leaders and politicians have said Mr Blunkett's call for ethnic minorities to do more "to belong" in the UK could be exploited by racists.

Australia itself has come under widespread criticism for its immigration policies, most recently by the Catholic Church, which has acused the government of inciting xenophobia.

Learning difficulties

Mr Ruddock did not specifically comment on new proposals by Mr Blunkett to develop what the British government describes as "social cohesion".

Philip Ruddock
Mr Ruddock has defended Australian detention centres

But he was clear that making everybody speak English was not realistic.

"There are a whole lot of issues about teaching English to new arrivals which will not necessarily give you a first generation where every family member can speak English," he said.

"Sometimes people will come (to Australia) who are not even literate in their own language," he added.

Mr Blunkett said in an interview with Britain's Independent on Sunday that legislation to be proposed in the New Year would require anyone seeking naturalisation to learn English.

Catholic criticism

Meanwhile back in Australia, a report by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace has accused the government of subjecting asylum seekers to violence and intimidation.

UK Home Secretary David Blunkett
Community leaders and politicians have criticised Mr Blunkett

According to the AFP news agency, the report also accuses the government of treating Pacific states "as if they were client states subject to our bidding".

Australia has turned back at least 1,000 boat people since August last year, shipping them to Pacific islands where their claims are processed by UN officials.

Prime Minister John Howard won a third term in office last month largely on the back of his tough stance on immigration.

But former immigration minister Ian Macphee, who belongs to Mr Howard's Liberal Party, backed the church report, saying the government had lost its soul.

"We appear to have endorsed the most repressive government in our history," AFP quoted him as saying in Melbourne on Monday.

See also:

10 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Blair backs Blunkett on race
08 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australian 'child abuse' denounced
07 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
Howard attacks asylum critics
31 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia's migrant policy under fire
05 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia immigrants riot in camp
22 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
Immigrants riot in Australian camp
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