Earlier this year the Australian government came under criticism by the United Nations (U.N.) because of discriminatory policies. The U.N. Human Rights Committee charged that the Australian mandatory sentencing laws specifically discriminated against Aborigines, its indigenous population. In another close examination of Australia’s policies since the termination of the “white Australia policy” that only European descent immigrants be admitted, the U.N. criticized Australia’s policy of holding refugee and asylum seekers in detention camps while their refugee applications are reviewed. According to the Refugee Council of Australia, “(Australia) is the only country that detains all people that arrive without documentation, whether they are a risk to the community or not.”
The brewing controversy over Australia’s refugee policies draws a heightened level of concern for the growing number of Afghan refugee and asylum seekers there. Since 1999, more than 3,700 persons primarily fleeing Afghanistan, China and Iraq sought asylum in Australia. The Australian Department of Immigration reports that between January and July 11, 2000, approximately 1,345 asylum seekers arrived in the country, most of whom were Afghans and Iraqis.
During the U.N. Millennium Summit held in New York this week, Australia announced that it will not ratify the optional protocol of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and asked that the treaty be removed from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s list of international covenants to be signed. On August 28, 2000, Australia announced that it would “veto nearly all visits by U.N. human rights investigators in response to criticisms of (its) treatment of Aborigines and asylum-seekers.”