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"It is particularly striking to note how much hostility against migrants is whipped up in online spaces and in the media, where hate flourishes, and how rapidly these attitudes can become part of the public discourse," she said.
"Targeting migrants as convenient scapegoats for a range of society’s troubles is a practice that is certainly not limited to Australia. Around the world, we see some politicians and would-be opinion leaders who are only too eager to demonize some of society’s most vulnerable and marginalized people for political gain."
Acknowledging the challenges facing many developed nations, Ms Bachelet told the Whitlam Institute audience there was still room for a compassionate approach to those in need of protection.
"Although no State is obliged to accept every person who arrives at its borders, all human beings are bound by the imperative of compassion and by the recognition of our common humanity," she said.
"Desperate human beings seeking safety and dignity are victims, not criminals; they are people just like us – tired and in need. And they are moving – many of them – because they have no other choice."
The former president of Chine also suggested any effort to refuse discussion around inclusion and respect would effectively enable "injustice, cruelty, grievance and tensions that may fuel greater conflicts".
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Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged to freeze the number of humanitarian visas during this term of government, provided the Coalition prevailed at the last federal election.
The commitment would see the government cap the number of migrants coming to Australia as refugees at 18,750 each year.
Pointing to the growing worldwide dissatisfaction over government policy on climate change, Ms Bachelet has warned politicians to take up "responsive and responsible policies" on big-ticket social issues.
"Leaders – not just political leaders, but social and business leaders too – can and should encourage greater participation and involvement by young people, whose lives will be shaped by the issues that are coming to the fore right now," she said.
"Rather than fuelling cynicism about the value of participation, they could – and should – be encouraging people to advocate policies that align with our most important personal convictions and ideals."