Australia - asylum numbers lowest in decade

The number of people seeking asylum in Australia is the lowest in ten years, reports The Advertiser newspaper.

According to the last official figures available, in 2002-2003 a total of 12,525 immigrants were admitted to Australia on humanitarian grounds, over 4,000 of whom were refugees. The Refugee Review Tribunal, a Government body that hears appeals against Department of Immigration rulings to cancel exit visas or grant refugee visas, in 2003-2004 just 3,344 people appealed against Federal Government decisions last year. This was a 30 percent drop on 2002-2003 and the lowest number since 1994-1995.

According to the tribunal, this can be attributed to tougher border control policies, which are reducing the number of people entering Australia unlawfully.

For several years Australia has followed a controversial policy of detaining asylum seekers in remote parts of the country and on the Pacific island of Nauru. Australia is the only developed country apart from the United States to regularly hold asylum seekers in detention, and there has been much criticism of the human rights aspects of the policy and of conditions for the inmates of the detention centers.

However, Australia's Conservative Government has defended the program as part of the fight against human trafficking and an assertion of Australia's right to decide who enters the country and by what procedures. And it points out that Australia has continued to accept refugees through lawful procedures while reducing the number of illegal entrants.

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