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Wednesday, 23 January, 2002, 12:11 GMT
Australian press criticises asylum stance
Boat carrying asylum seekers from the Middle East
Newspapers are calling for a government re-think
Hunger strikes by asylum seekers detained at camps in Australia, are starting to prompt criticism of the government's policies among the nation's newspapers.

The Canberra Times says the protests, in which several migrants have sewn their lips together, has revealed "sickening aspects" of the policy of locking up asylum seekers while their claims are processed.

In particular it criticises the policy of detaining young children, especially amid allegations that young boys at one camp have been sexually assaulted by other detainees.

"That a five-year-old boy, who has committed no crime, can be put in detention in Australia for nearly a year, should be offensive to the vast majority of Australians," the newspaper says.

It also rounds on Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock, who threatened to take children away from their parents following reports that a number of children had had their lips sewn.

"Having created the victims he now wants to punish the victims," the paper says.

'Abhorrent policy'

The Australian newspaper takes a similar line, calling for children to be housed "in the community, away from danger".

The newspaper says the government's "Pacific solution", under which new asylum seekers are sent neighbouring island nations, is "unsustainable."

Desperate people will use any means to achieve their end

The Australian
"In trying to export our refugee efforts, the government not only ignored the need for greater regional co-operation but also neglected the chance of a decent solution - a more efficient processing system at home," the paper says.

The government has won widespread support from the public over its tough line, winning a third term in office last November following a crack-down on immigration.

But the Canberra Times says just because an "abhorrent policy" is popular, it does not mean it is right. And the Melbourne Age says it is surprised that, having won the election, the government stills feels the need to "demonise" the boat people.

The Australian agrees, saying: "The government remains intent on using its mandate to justify harsh treatment of detainees in the name of deterring newcomers. But desperate people will use any means to achieve their end of being accepted by Australia."

Both the Melbourne Age and the Adelaide Advertiser say the government should allow journalists into the detention camps so the public can find out the "truth" of the conditions there.

"He [Philip Ruddock] insists they are not prisons," says The Age. "In that case, why are the media and the public denied access to them?"

The Advertiser points out that international observers in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba seem to have been given better access to the Taleban and al-Qaeda prisoners than Australians are to the detention centres.

See also:

23 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Australian asylum protest spreads
21 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Australia warns hunger strikers
18 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Hunger strike at Australian camp
20 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Asylum escape foiled
19 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia's detention centre in the desert
31 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia defends asylum stance
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