Australia urged to end asylum freeze and ‘refugee-bashing’

SYDNEY, July 5, 2010 (AFP) – Human Rights Watch urged Australia’s new prime minister on Monday to lift a controversial freeze on Afghan and Sri Lankan asylum claims and end “refugee-bashing” ahead of elections. The New York-based group said Julia Gillard, who has signalled a tough approach on immigration, should resume processing Afghan and Sri Lankan claims after a suspension which has been criticised by the United Nations.

“Ending the suspension of Sri Lankan and Afghan claims would be an excellent start to Gillard’s government and demonstrate her commitment to human rights,” said the group’s acting Asia director Elaine Pearson.

Gillard, who deposed Kevin Rudd in a party coup and will face elections within months, has called for an end to “political correctness” in the debate over the boatloads of asylum seekers reaching Australia’s north.

Australia’s first woman prime minister is poised to make an announcement on the issue this week, as a three-month freeze on Sri Lankan claims ends on Thursday. Afghan claims are currently suspended for another three months.

“In an election year, the Gillard government should reset the debate on the treatment of refugees and end refugee-bashing for