We treat refugees fairly

There are so many inaccuracies in John Pilger's article (11 June) about the situation of asylum-seekers in Australia that it is difficult to know where to start in rebuttal.

Australia does not have a policy of detaining asylum-seekers. Mandatory detention is the result of being in Australia unlawfully. As a result, most asylum-seekers are free in the community.

Many of those who arrive unlawfully pay large sums to people-smugglers to bring them to Australia from countries of first asylum where they have effective protection. The majority of cases are processed within 15 weeks of applying for protection. Those found to be refugees are released immediately, subject to satisfactory health and character checks.

The UN Human Rights Committee has confirmed that Australia's policy does not breach the international Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The detention centres are not concealed, but are oversighted and visited by parliamentary committees, government organisations such as the ombudsman, international bodies and various non-governmental organisations.

Experience has shown that people found not to be refugees, and whose applications for a visa have been rejected, are often the perpetrators of riots, mass breakouts and allegations of ill treatment.

Philip Ruddock
Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs
Canberra, Australia

This article first appeared in the 23 July 2001 issue of the New Statesman, In the line of fire