SYDNEY, April 26, 2011 (AFP) – Australia moved to toughen its refugee stance Tuesday, launching a stricter character test so those convicted of crimes, including rioting, while in immigration detention could be shipped home. Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the new law, if passed by parliament, would mean any asylum seeker found guilty of an offence while in detention would automatically fail character requirements for a visa.
It follows wild rioting in immigration facilities on Christmas Island last month and in Sydney, where fire gutted nine buildings last week as 100 inmates demonstrated against their detention at Villawood.
Dozens of people have been questioned by police over the riots but no charges have yet been laid.
Bowen said the character test amendments would be retrospective, meaning those convicted of crimes as a result of the riots could face deportation or receive only temporary visas with limited rights.
“Certainly the approach that I would be taking is to apply that test vigorously,” he told reporters.
The minister stressed that the overhaul would not breach Australia’s international obligations and “we will not be returning people who are genuine refugees to a country i