Human Rights Watch slams Australian minister over immigration offer to white SA farmers

Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton. (AFP File)
Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton. (AFP File)

Cape Town – Human Rights Watch has accused Australian home affairs minister Peter Dutton of hypocrisy after he expressed a desire to bring "persecuted" white South African farmers to Australia on refugee visas.

Dutton recently said white farmers were facing "horrific circumstances" of land seizures and violence in South Africa and wanted his department to investigate bringing them to Australia, The Guardian reported.

He has asked his department to examine ways of fast-tracking visas for white South African farmers to gain refugee status in Australia, in a plan supported by the West Australian Liberal Party who have been pushing to "resettle persecuted minorities" in SA and Zimbabwe, according to ABC News.

"I find it breathtakingly hypocritical that government ministers would prioritise this group of white South African farmers over other groups that are equally, if not much more desperately, in need of assistance," charged Human Rights Watch Director Elaine Pearson according to SBS News.

Refugee treatment

Australia has come in for criticism over its negligent treatment of refugees in Nauru and Manus Island camps.

READ: Asylum detainees awarded $56m in Australia class action

In 2017, Victoria's Supreme Court awarded asylum seekers in those camps Aus$70m over conditions that led to mental health problems, as a result of long periods of detention.

"International law says that if people are fleeing persecution and they should have the right to seek sanctuary, and Australia has broken that law when it comes to people that we've locked up on Manus and Nauru," said Pearson.

She argued that people from Sudan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh had experience persecution, and suggested that Dutton was perhaps ignorant of their suffering.

READ: Australian minister Dutton is 'an out-and-out racist'

In Australia, Greens leader, Senator Richard Di Natale, hit out at Dutton and labelled him a racist, according to an ABC News report.

"There's no debate as far as I'm concerned, the bloke is an out-and-out racist," said Di Natale.

"According to Peter Dutton, if you're a white South African farmer you are going to make a great contribution, you're not going to bludge on welfare. But if you're not white, you won't do any of those things," Di Natale was quoted as saying.

SA reaction

The Australian department of home affairs weighed in on the issue, saying that the issue was receiving attention.

"As the minister for home affairs has previously stated, he has asked the department to have a look at options and ways in which Australia can provide some assistance," a spokesperson told News24.

"The department is monitoring the situation of minority groups in South Africa in the context of consideration for potential resettlement under the offshore humanitarian programme."

The South African government's Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) said it was "engaging" with the Australian government on the issue.

READ: Sisulu demands retraction from Australian govt on land redistribution comments

On Thursday, Minister Lindiwe Sisulu issued a diplomatic demarche – or course of action – to the Australian High Commissioner in SA, Adam McCarthy, to demand a retraction of the comments by Dutton.

Dirco spokesperson Ndivhuwo Mabaya blamed lobby AfriForum for spreading fear and false information on land expropriation, arguing that the process was before Parliament and all stakeholders would be consulted.

"There is no reason for any government anywhere in the world to suspect that any South African is in danger from their own democratically-elected government. That threat simply does not exist."

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has, for the moment, declined to join the debate, insisting that Australia has a "non-discriminatory humanitarian programme".

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