Australia MP in court asylum appeal

Suspected asylum seekers arrive at Christmas Island, after receiving assistance by Australian Navy, on 13 October 2012 on Christmas Island. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Australia detains all who arrive by boat, and those found to be refugees will not be resettled in Australia

An Australian lawmaker says he has written to the International Criminal Court (ICC) asking it to investigate Tony Abbott's government over its treatment of asylum seekers.

Andrew Wilkie, an independent, said he wanted the court to assess policies he said were causing "great suffering".

He cited forcible deportations, compulsory detention and detention camp conditions as areas to be investigated.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison rejected the claims.

"The coalition government will not be intimidated by attention-seeking advocates calling for a return to the failed policies of the past that resulted in unprecedented cost, chaos and tragedy on our borders," he told AAP.

Australia takes a tough line on asylum seekers who arrive by boat. They are held in offshore processing camps in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Nauru, in conditions that have been strongly criticised by rights groups.

If found to be refugees, they will be resettled in PNG or Cambodia, not Australia. No-one has yet been resettled.

In recent months Australian ships have also intercepted boats at sea. Some have been towed back to Indonesia and another returned to Sri Lanka.

These policies have been condemned by refugee advocates and the UN, who say Australia may be failing to meet its obligations under international treaties.

But the government says its aim is to reduce the number of people dying during the dangerous journey to Australia by boat, and maintains that the policies are working.

Mr Wilkie and human rights lawyer Greg Barns said the Abbott government's actions were "criminal", breached global conventions and fell within the jurisdiction of the ICC.

"The effect of the (asylum) policy is that men, women and children are being forcibly relocated and then subjected to arbitrary imprisonment through mandatory and sometimes indefinite detention," the letter to the ICC said.

"The conditions they are forced to endure in detention are causing great suffering as well as serious bodily and mental injury."

It is not yet known whether the ICC would consider taking up the case.

Australia and asylum

  • Asylum seekers - mainly from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq and Iran - travel to Australia's Christmas Island by boat from Indonesia
  • The number of boats rose sharply in 2012 and early 2013. Scores of people have died making the journey
  • To stop the influx, the government has adopted hard-line measures intended as a deterrent
  • Everyone who arrives is detained. Under a new policy, they are processed in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. Those found to be refugees will be resettled in PNG, Nauru or Cambodia
  • Tony Abbot's government has also adopted a policy of tow-backs, or turning boats around
  • Rights groups and the UN have voiced serious concerns about the policies and accuse Australia of shirking international obligations

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