Human Rights Watch has accused Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton of being 'breathtakingly hypocritical' after he expressed a desire to bring 'persecuted' white South African farmers to Australia on refugee visas.
Peter Dutton came under the firing line after asserting on Thursday that white South African farmers deserve "special attention" from a "civilised country" like Australia because they face violence and land seizures.
"I think in this circumstance we do need to look at the persecution that's taking place," Mr Dutton told 2GB radio on Thursday.
He has directed his Home Affairs department to explore whether the farmers can be accepted into Australia through refugee, humanitarian or other visas, including the in-country persecution visa category.
Human Rights Watch Director Elaine Pearson has since accused Mr Dutton of being "breathtakingly hypocritical" and said there was a "racial element" to the comments.
"That really concerns me because international law doesn’t discriminate, it does not say we should accept refugees on the basis of whether they make good migrants, or whether they’re well educated," she said.
"International law says that if people are fleeing persecution and they should have the right to seek sanctuary, and Australia has broken that law when it comes to people that we’ve locked up on Manus and Nauru.
"Certainly I think there are equally as moving stories from people from Afghanistan, Sudan and other countries. Perhaps it’s now that Peter Dutton hasn’t had the opportunity to read those stories.
"I find it breathtakingly hypocritical that government ministers would prioritise this group of white South African farmers over other groups that are equally, if not much more desperately in need of assistance."
Mr Dutton believes white farmers in South Africa face "horrific circumstances" and need help from Australia.
"We have a huge South African expat community within Australia. They work hard, they integrate well into Australian society. They contribute and make us a better country," he said.
"They're the sorts of migrants that we want to bring into our country."
But Ms Pearson said there are much greater humanitarian needs closer to home.
"There are a lot of persecuted groups that deserve special attention from the Australian government and I certainly would not be starting with the white South African farmers," she said.
"There are nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims that have had to flee killings, rape and violence to Bangladesh, so if we’re talking about groups that urgently need assistance, this would be a group which is closer to home that much more urgently needs immediate assistance, rather than this other group."
South Africa responds: 'Threat doesn't exist'
The South African foreign ministry said the "threat" Mr Dutton refers to does not exist.
"There is no reason for any government in the world to suspect that a section of South Africans is under danger from their own democratically elected government," it said in Pretoria, Reuters reported.
"We regret that the Australian government chose not to use the available diplomatic channels available for them to raise concerns or to seek clarification."
Ms Pearson said despite the ministry's denial, there was "probably something" to these allegations.
"I know back in 2001, Human Rights Watch issued a report, documenting abuses against South African farmers, but in that report some time ago, we found that black South African farmers were actually equally, if not more vulnerable to abuse than white South African farmers," she said.
"It’s interesting that the government is so moved by these stories, there does seem to be a racial element there."
AfriForum, a rights group representing primarily the white Afrikaner minority, praised Mr Dutton's comments but said it was not in favour of mass emigration.
"Our future is in Africa, not elsewhere," chief executive Kallie Kriel said.
Mr Dutton has suggested an announcement could be made soon.
"I hope we can settle some of these people because I think they will work hard, I think they desire to work hard, they want to educate their kids and they want to provide for a safe and certain future," he said.
"We can provide that in a country like ours."