Australia plans more tough asylum-seeker reforms

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia announced further tough reforms to its asylum-seeker policy on Wednesday, saying refugees should have to prove a higher risk of danger than before to avoid being sent home.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said the changes would also put the onus on asylum-seekers to prove their claims, while visas would be denied to people who threw away their documents.

"Australians need to be confident that those who are found to be refugees are in fact who they say they are," he said.

"And that if asylum seekers do not cooperate with the government to establish their identity they should not be given the benefit of the doubt."

Australia has toughened its policy on asylum-seekers in recent years, with those arriving on unauthorised boats now refused residency in Australia even if they are deemed refugees.

Instead they are held in detention camps on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, and are expected to be resettled in those countries if their claims are found to be valid.

Last week Australia marked six months since the last asylum-seeker boat arrival, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott pronouncing himself "very satisfied".

His conservative government came to power in September vowing to stop the flood of asylum-seekers arriving on rickety boats from Southeast Asia, with hundreds of people dying en route.

Mr Morrison said the new bill introduced to parliament Wednesday would ensure that asylum-seekers would be forced to prove their identity and provide enough evidence to support their claims.

But he added that assistance would be given to those travelling without official documents or unable to make their case.

Australia is committed to its obligations under international law to not send back refugees facing persecution, Mr Morrison said.

But he said the new bill would shift the threshold for the level of danger faced by asylum-seekers in their home countries if they are to be allowed to stay.

"The threshold ... will return to a 'more likely than not' risk of harm occurring to an individual, rather than a 'real chance' which can be as low as a 10 per cent risk," he said.

Morrison said 'more likely than not' meant there would have to be a 50 percent chance of a person suffering significant harm for their application to be successful.

"Now this is an acceptable position which is open to Australia under international law and reflects the government's interpretation of Australia's obligations," he said.

The opposition Labor Party said it would seek a briefing on the proposed legislation, but the Greens attacked the proposals.

"This is about allowing the government to deport more refugees back home to danger," said Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young.

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