UN concerned over Australian refugee plans

The UN chief praised Australia as the "model" nation for its record on the world stage.

Canberra: United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Saturday he had concerns about Australia`s approach towards refugees, even as he praised the "model" nation for its record on the world stage.

Kicking off a Pacific tour set to centre on the threat of climate change, Ban met with Prime Minister Julia Gillard to discuss developments in Libya and the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa.

"Australia is one of the model countries in many areas," Ban said.

But he added: "Of course there are some concerns on how to deal with immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees," speaking at a press conference alongside Gillard.

Canberra suffered a humiliating setback last week when the High Court blocked its plans to ship up to 800 boatpeople to Malaysia, finding asylum seekers could not be sent to another nation unless that country was compelled to adequately protect them.

Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN convention on refugees and the decision was welcomed by refugee activists who had accused Australia of abandoning its international obligations by transferring asylum seekers to a country without proper protection.

Canberra had argued the policy would have crushed people-smugglers and is taking legal advice on what to do next given the ruling could also jeopardise its plans to transfer other asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea.

Ban is the first UN secretary general to visit Australia since Kofi Annan toured in 2000 and his visit comes as Canberra is pushing for a seat on the United Nations Security Council.

The United Nations leader, who leaves Australia later Saturday to visit the Solomon Islands and Kiribati before heading to New Zealand, said climate change would be a key focus of his Pacific tour.

Climate change was a real and growing threat, with some countries in the region particularly vulnerable, he said.

"Whole islands could be lost as sea levels continue to rise," Ban said, calling for ambitious targets to keep global temperatures in check.

The UN leader said time was of the essence in dealing with the issue.

"With so much at stake this is not a time for gamesmanship," he said. "This is a time to work together to get real results."

Gillard said Australia was a strong supporter of the UN, of which it is a founding member and which it has worked on issues such as the conflict in Afghanistan, and imposing sanctions on countries such as Iran and North Korea.

"We understand that the work of the United Nations brings our world together to address some difficult problems," she said.

"Australia will continue to pursue its bid for election to the United Nations Security Council because we believe in the work of the United Nations and its importance."

The Prime Minister said Australia would provide an additional AUD 10 million (USD 10.65 million) to fund the United Nations` efforts in the Horn of Africa, bringing the nation`s assistance on the issue to almost AUD 100 million.

As she offered her condolences over the deadly attack on the UN compound in Nigeria, she offered the services of up to 25 Australian soldiers and 10 police to the UN mission in South Sudan.

Bureau Report

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