United Nations chief Ban Ki-Moon urges Malcolm Turnbull to rethink asylum seekers policies

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UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon attends the 10th East Asia Summit at the 27th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, November 22, 2015. Reuters/Olivia Harris

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been called upon by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to reconsider Australia’s stance on asylum seekers arriving on boats by sea. The UN chief also mentioned the pitiful conditions of the detentions centres at the Nauru and Manus islands to the prime minister and urged him to take appropriate measures.

The top diplomat of the world met with the Australian prime minister on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit held in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday and discussed a range of issues including terrorism. The United Nations said in a statement that the secretary-general expressed concerns over Australia’s policies on asylum seekers and urged the prime minister to rethink on the country’s military-led regime “Operation Sovereign Borders,” which has been designed to deal with smuggling of people and oversee border protection.

Ban acknowledged Australia’s “long-standing commitment to refugee resettlement” and called on Turnbull to share the responsibilities.

“The Secretary-General expressed concern over the detention conditions in Australia’s offshore processing centres and encouraged the Prime Minister to reconsider Operation Sovereign Borders,” according to a statement released by the UN after the meeting.

The pair also discussed the gruelling issues in Syria and Iraq, including ways to tackle terrorism and climate change. Ban “encouraged Australia to lead efforts to ensure a low-carbon, climate-resilient future.”

It is not the first time the UN has urged the Australian government to rethink its policy on asylum seekers. But it has gained importance this time as it has been conveyed to the prime minister during a face to face meeting.

The plea from the secretary-general follows reports of an asylum seeker boat being turned away while it was approaching the Christmas Island. Earlier this month, a riot also broke out on the island after the death of a detainee who tried to escape.

Turnbull, on the other hand, is facing pressure from his own party should reconsider its plan to take in 12,000 extra Syrian refugees after the terror attacks in Paris.

“We have extremist elements at work in this country,” Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi told the ABC’s Capital Hill program. “Why would we risk bringing in more to add to their ranks, even potentially, and bear the financial and social burden that comes with that?”

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