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UNHCR chief’s remarks a chance for calmer debate on asylum seekers

Media Release
Sarah Hanson-Young 14 Feb 2012

The UNHCR chief, Antonio Guterres, has last night highlighted the relatively small number of asylum seekers seeking Australia's protection compared to countries including Italy, the Australian Greens said.

"Last year 58,000 people arrived in Italy and Malta and 100,000 reached Yemen, compared to around 6,000 in Australia," Greens' immigration spokesperson, Sen. Sarah Hanson-Young, said.

"Despite what some may want to believe, we do not have a national security problem, we have a humanitarian one and we need to keep things in perspective.

"We are pleased Mr Guterres highlighted the small numbers in Australia relative to what is a global problem. We back his remarks that the debate in Australia is sometimes inflated out of proportion.

"The Greens are encouraged by the UNHCR'S preference that asylum seekers' claims be assessed in the country they reach. That is the Greens' policy - to ensure Australia fulfils its obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention.

"Mr Guterres also said the UNHCR does not support a policy of turning back boats. Mr Abbott should reassess his plans, because neither than Royal Australian Navy nor UNHCR endorses it.

"It's cheaper to taxpayers to treat people seeking asylum fairly and with humanity, rather than blowing government budgets on looking tough."


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