10 Apr 2010

Refugee group criticises Australia's asylum freeze

10:30 am on 10 April 2010

A human rights group in Sri Lanka has condemned the Australian Government's decision to suspend the processing of Sri Lankan and Afghan asylum seekers.

Under changes announced on Friday, new applications from Sri Lanka will be suspended for three months, and those from Afghanistan for six months.

Any new asylum seekers arriving in Australian waters from those countries will not have their refugee applications processed until the suspension is lifted.

Some refugee lawyers in Sri Lanka say the Australian government has made a bad decision, the ABC reports.

Lakshan Dias from the South Asian Network for Refugees, Internally Displaced Persons and Migrants says Sri Lanka is still not safe for members of the minority Tamil population.

Australian Immigration Minister Chris Evans says the Government has decided to implement the processing suspension due to "changing conditions" in both countries, the ABC reports.

The suspension comes as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reviews the international protection guidelines for both countries.

Mr Evans says the changes will mean that more asylum claims from the new countries will be refused.

The opposition says the government's decision is politically motivated and will not stop the boats coming to Australia.

The government revealed that 70 people were rescued from a sinking asylum boat off Christmas Island on Friday morning. It was the 38th boat to arrive in Australian waters this year.