China joins criticism of Australian asylum policy

China has joined the chorus of opposition to Australia's policy of sending asylum seekers overseas.

(Transcript from World News Radio)

Criticism of Australia's asylum seeker policy has been coming from unexpected quarters.

China, with its own chequered record on human rights, has joined the chorus of opposition to Australia's policy of sending asylum seekers overseas.

A former Liberal Prime Minister is also voicing his disapproval, as is a Manus Island Police commander.

Thea Cowie reports.

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Australia's asylum policy is provoking widespread criticism following violent clashes on Manus Island that left one asylum seeker dead, another shot, and dozens of others injured, some seriously.

Not surprisingly refugee advocates and human rights groups are calling for Australia's overseas processing centres to close.

So too is former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser.

"Offshore processing should be just put aside and they should be shut. I think quite clearly excessive force has been used. When you contract out the management of this kind of centre to private enterprise companies those companies naturally attract people who are pretty tough, who can be pretty ruthless. Contracting out all the (unclear) means the government has very little control over what's happened, it's much harder to hold people to account and while these centres remain as they are there will be continued disturbances, continued problems."

Mr Fraser oversaw what's widely viewed as a successful asylum seeker policy, with Australia welcoming thousands of Vietnamese fleeing in the aftermath of the war there.

He says the latest violence on Manus Island proves the current policy of sending asylum seekers overseas is a failure which should not be salvaged.

"I wouldn't want to salvage them. The idea of saying that people are going to be resettled in Papua New Guinea where there is a great deal of violence, a good deal of mismanagement, a good deal of corruption and a great deal of difficulty has been chosed quite deliberately as a deterrent. I think PNG doesn't realise the insult that has been done to it by putting it in that position. Australia has been trying to shove responsibility onto other people for a long while now."

Opposition within Papua New Guinea is mounting too.

Manus Island police commander Alex N'Drasal has reportedly called on the Abbott government to quickly address to asylum seekers' concerns.

The senior police officer has told PNG media, treatment of asylum seekers is poor and there's a lack of qualified staff.

"The Australian government should change its approach and act quickly on the petition which was handed to the authority last week by the transferees ... These asylum seekers are educated people and should be treated like one."

Meanwhile it seems the world is watching and judging too.

China's Foreign affairs vice-minister, Li Baodong, has voiced his concerns about Australia's asylum policy to visiting officials.

Mr Li says China has very candidly questioned Australia on its policy of sending asylum seekers to offshore detention centres.

"Especially on the protection of refugees and asylum seekers, the right of the children of refugees in education and also other rights. We have also asked about whether these refugees will be illegally repatriated to other countries."

The criticism comes shortly after Iran protested against what it called the practice of violence and mistreatment in Australian-run detention centres.

Iran's Foreign Ministry reportedly summoned the Australian ambassador to demand changes to the treatment of asylum seekers.

It comes after the death of a 23-year-old Iranian national in the Manus Island riots.

Amnesty International's Australia Refugee Co-ordinator Graeme McGregor believes the criticism from the Chinese and Iranian governments is genuine.

"I don't think it was opportunistic on the part of the Chinese and certainly as far as I'm aware there are no Chinese asylum seekers within the detention centre so I don't think there is an agenda there. I think this is a genuine criticism based on the welfare of children and innocent people in detention. On the part of the Iranian government certainly there's an irony in criticising Australia for its asylum seeker record when the young man who died was in fact fleeing persecution in Iran. So it's hard to understand what the Iranian agenda might be."

Elaine Pearson, from Human Rights Watch Australia, who is visiting New York, says Australia's human rights record is coming under increasing international scrutiny.

"I think now countries are concerned about what Australia's practices mean, particularly in Europe, here in the US there is a bit of concern that Australia isn't really living up to its obligations and seems to be shirking its responsibilities and pushing them onto other countries in the region which clearly are impoverished and lack a lot of capacity to provide the types of protection that asylum seekers need."

Immigration Minister Scott Morrision says he won't be distracted by the criticism.

"I know Australia fulfils its obligations under its treaties and conventions and we conduct ourselves consistent with our own laws. Other nations will make comment from time to time and I will leave them to give their explanation for those comments if they wish to. It's not something that's focusing my attention. I's focusing on obviously the issues at Manus, how we are managing the issue and how we're moving forward there."

Prime Minister Tony Abbott says Australia will deal with asylum seekers in detention fairly, but if necessarily, firmly.

Security firm G4S says its duty of care to asylum seekers - who it calls "transferees" - is the company's highest priority, as it comes to the end of its contract to run the Manus centre.

Source World News Australia

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