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Australia joins US in rejecting UN migration pact


Sydney (AFP)

Australia's conservative government announced Wednesday it would reject a UN migration pact already denounced by the United States and several European countries.

Adopting the pact "would risk encouraging illegal entry to Australia and reverse... hard-won successes in combating the people-smuggling trade", Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a joint statement with his home and foreign ministers.

Morrison was an architect of Australia's hardline policy of detaining asylum-seekers trying to reach the country by boat on remote Pacific islands.

The policy choked off what had been an active people-smuggling trade that saw hundreds of people die at sea trying to reach Australia.

But hundreds of people have since been held for years in Papua New Guinea and Nauru under the program, which has been harshly criticised as inhumane by the United Nations and human-rights groups.

"We believe that the compact is inconsistent with our well-established policies and not in Australia's interest," the ministers said.

They added the pact "would also be used by those who have sought to undermine Australia's strong border-protection laws and practices" in a jab at opposition parties which have been escalating calls for refugees to be released from Nauru and PNG's Manus Island.

The UN Global Compact for Migration was agreed in July after 18 months of negotiations and is due to be adopted next month.

It lays out 23 objectives to open up legal migration and better manage migratory flows as the number of people on the move worldwide has increased to 250 million -- three percent of the world's population.

The pact has already been rejected by the US administration of Donald Trump and conservative governments in Poland, Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

Morrison's minority government has been highlighting the issue of immigration as it prepares for national elections due by next May.

Opinion polls show his conservative coalition trailing well behind the main opposition Labor Party.

Earlier this week Morrison announced he would also seek to slash legal migration into Australia, from the current official cap of 190,000 per year to around 160,000.

He said the cut was needed to counter worsening congestion in the nation's main cities.

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