U.N. Criticizes Australia's Handling of Illegal Refugees

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The United Nations top human rights watchdog has attacked Australia's tough refugee policies. The U.N. Human Rights commissioner criticized Australia's long-standing policies of locking up asylum seekers... and sending them to other countries for processing.

U.N. Human Rights commissioner Navi Pillary held talks on Wednesday with Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

The commissioner expressed deep concern about the Labor government's latest plan to send hundreds of asylum seekers to Malaysia.

[Navi Pillay, U.N. Human Rights Commissioner]:
"Australia's mandatory detention policy has for many years cast a shadow over Australia's human rights record. Thousands of men, women and most disturbingly of all, children, have been held in Australian detention centers for prolonged periods even though they have committed no crime. When detention is mandatory and does not take into account individual circumstances, it can be considered arbitrary and therefore in breach of international law. Mandatory detention is also a practice that can, and has, led to suicides, self-harming and deep trauma."

The Australian government has been struggling to handle the flow of illegal immigrants.

Earlier this month it says it had struck a deal with Kuala Lumpur to ensure asylum-seekers caught heading to Australia would be sent to Malaysia.

More than 900 people, mostly from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Sri Lanka, have arrived in Australia so far this year. Over a hundred boats carrying more than 6,000 people turned up last year, prompting the government to harden its immigration policy.

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