UNHCR: Asylum seekers are not criminals

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Boat carrying Sri Lankan asylum seekers arriving in Australia:UNHCR

People crossing international borders seeking asylum should not be treated as criminals and detained, says the UN Refugee agency (UNHCR).

The agency says that indefinite and mandatory detention of asylum seekers and individuals seeking international protection are prohibited under international law.

In a set of new guidelines issued Friday, UNHCR says detention of asylum seekers should be a measure of last resort and that unaccompanied children should not be detained.

The agency is also calling for independent monitoring and inspection of detention centers holding asylum seekers.

Alice Edwards is a legal expert with UNHCR.

"At the moment we are particularly concerned with a number of countries. Israel is moving to what could be described as automatic detention. Currently 3,000 asylum seekers are in detention. Many of these are asylum seekers from Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan whom from our perspective are very likely to be refugees. Canada and New Zealand have both recently considered legislative changes in which they plan to tighten up their detention laws which will have an impact on asylum seekers and refugees. South Africa has constructed a new detention facility on the Zimbabwe border with the capacity of thousands of beds, including for unaccompanied minors without basic facilities."

Duration: 42″

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