9 News | 00:01 AEST Tue Feb 15 2011

The federal government is backsliding fast on its promise of a humane approach to refugees, Amnesty International says.

Amnesty has slammed the government for its “increasingly ad-hoc” approach to refugee policy and worsening conditions in Australia’s overcrowded detention centres.

“Put simply, this government is going backwards on its refugee policy, and fast,” Amnesty Australia refugee coordinator Graham Thoms said.

“Rather than delivering the principled and humane approach it has repeatedly promised, we are seeing ill-thought-out announcements and stopgap solutions.”

A new agreement that allows Australia to send failed Afghan asylum seekers home against their will was of particular concern, Amnesty said.

The government should introduce laws to ensure protection for Afghans who do not qualify for refugee status but may still be at risk of human rights abuses, it said.

Amnesty also raised concerns about conditions at the Christmas Island and mainland detention centres, currently home to almost 7000 people.

Processing was too slow, medical and mental health services were in short supply and morale was getting worse, it said.

The government should hasten the release of children from detention.

Amnesty reiterated its opposition to Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s plan to build a regional refugee processing centre in East Timor.

“These policies are symptoms of a flailing system,” Mr Thoms said.

“Unless the current approach is replaced with policies that show strategy, vision, leadership and respect for human rights, the human consequences will be disastrous.”

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