Australia will not join a United Nations-backed global pact on migration, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Wednesday, citing concerns that the deal would be used to “undermine Australia’s strong border protection laws and practices.”
The Morrison government’s decision comes as countries from around the world move to formally adopt the “Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration” pact next month.
The UN made the decision to come up with a global compact on migration in 2016, in the wake of the crisis in the Mediterranean, which has seen thousands of migrants die while attempting to cross into Europe.
A draft of the agreement, which is not legally binding, was finalized in July after more than a year of work.
Morrison said in a statement that his government believes the pact, as currently written, is not in Australia’s interest and will not “add anything to enhancing our capacity to control our borders and manage our successful immigration program.”
“The Compact fails to adequately distinguish between people who enter Australia illegally and those who come to Australia the right way, particularly with respect to the provision of welfare and other benefits,” the statement read.
“This is inconsistent with the management of Australia’s strong and orderly migration program under the Liberal National Government.”
Australia has come under fire from international rights groups for its strict immigration laws.
For years, asylum-seekers who were caught illegally entering Australia by boat were sent to processing centers on Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus island. Some have spent years there, and a 2016 UN report found cases of “attempted suicide, self-immolation, acts of self-harm and depression” among children detained on Nauru.
Successive Australian governments have defended the practice of using offshore detention centers as a way to control immigration despite domestic and international criticism.
Morrison said that adopting the compact would “directly conflict with important principles that have underpinned our successful approach.”
A handful of Western countries have also rejected the pact for similar reasons.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that his country would not sign up to the agreement. The United States also left the global compact last year, saying that while it supported international cooperation on migration, “it is the primary responsibility of sovereign states to help ensure that migration is safe, orderly, and legal.”