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Friday, 16 November, 2001, 09:33 GMT
UN attacks Australia's asylum policy
Boat carrying Middle Eastern asylum seekers, just off Australia's Christmas Island
Australia's policy is to turn away boat people
Australia has resorted to "the law of the jungle" in its measures to keep out asylum seekers, the head of the United Nations refugee agency, Ruud Lubbers, has said.


You need to organise it in a way that we go for the law and not for the law of the jungle

UNHCR head Ruud Lubbers
Mr Lubbers said while he understood Australia's concerns about people smuggling, Canberra should stick to international agreements rather than act unilaterally.

In August, Prime Minister John Howard ordered naval forces to start turning boat people away from Australian waters in an effort to deter the multi-million-dollar trade in people smuggling.

His government - re-elected on Sunday on a hardline immigration platform - has hit back at the UN agency (UNHCR), accusing it of squandering its resources.

Waste

Australian Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said the UNHCR had spent hundreds of millions of dollars each year looking after some 21 million refugees.

An asylum-seeker refused entry to Australia
Many asylum seekers come via Indonesia
"It is an obscene waste of resources for a system which is about to collapse," Mr Ruddock told Australia's ABC radio.

The minister said on top of the money the UNHCR spends, developed countries also had to foot a multi-billion-dollar bill for an asylum seeker system under which only one in 10 people are entitled to refugee status.

He also rejected criticism by the UNHCR and Amnesty International of Australia's policy of processing claims of asylum seekers on small Pacific Islands.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard after his election victory
Mr Howard has won huge popularity over asylum
Since August, hundreds of refugees have been shipped and flown to detention camps set up by Australia on the impoverished Pacific nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

This week it asked the tiny, island nation of Tuvalu to take in asylum seekers, despite turning down Tuvalu's own request for asylum in June. Tuvalu had asked Australia to take in some of its people of fears over rising sea waters.

Mr Lubbers also said he disagreed with suggestions made by Mr Howard during Australia's recent federal election campaign that terrorists could infiltrate Australia on boats carrying asylum seekers.

"The people who have to flee their countries are the victims of terrorism. They are not terrorists," he said.


Talking PointFORUM
Howard's way
Michael Peschardt on Australian poll
See also:

14 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia 'not desperate' on asylum
13 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
Sinking island urged to accept migrants
09 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
Asylum seekers 'torch ship'
08 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia shows refugee video
23 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia lands another refugee deal
10 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Papua accepts boat people
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