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Terrorism & Security

Australia no longer to detain asylum seekers

As immigrants from Iraq and Afghanistan pour into the country, human rights groups praise the new policy. But critics say it will undermine national security.

By / July 30, 2008

Australia's government has overhauled its immigration policy for asylum seekers, a move that drew praise from human rights groups, but was criticized by the main opposition party as a potential security risk. The new policy was announced Tuesday and follows the election last year of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who had opposed the tough anti-immigration stance of his predecessor, John Howard. Among the largest group of claimants in recent years have been refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan.

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The new rules apply to illegal immigrants who want to claim political asylum in Australia. Under a 1992 law, Australia can automatically detain anyone seeking asylum, which can take years to decide. Most controversial was the so-called 2001 "Pacific Solution," which involved warehousing claimants in detention camps on Pacific islands while their cases were considered. Mr. Rudd moved to close these camps after he took office.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans said in a speech on Tuesday that asylum seekers who "pose no danger to the community" won't be detained while their visa status is determined, Bloomberg reports. Those who are detained because they "present unacceptable risks to the community" will be subject to quarterly reviews by the immigration department, he added. Children are exempt from mandatory detention. Refugees who arrive by boat on Australia's outer islands will be processed on Christmas Island, an Australian territory.

In a copy of his speech on the Australian Labor Party website, Mr. Evans pledged to improve independent oversight of immigration rulings and said that all asylum seekers would have access to free legal advice. He said Australia would continue to honor its international commitment to providing a safe haven for political refugees and criticized his predecessor's "shameful" policies.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports that the opposition in Parliament has attacked the revised policy as poorly conceived and against the national interest. Chris Ellison, immigration spokesman for Mr. Howard's party, which held power for 11 years until last year's election defeat, said softening the detention policy would "send a clear message to the region that we are relaxing border control."


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