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More than two million Australian households are calling for their government to stop diverting a chunk of its aid budget to asylum seekers in the country.

Also supporting the ”don’t divert aid” campaign from Tear Australia are 17 nongovernmental organizations and some political figures including Malcolm Fraser, the country’s 22nd prime minister. 

Australian NGOs and some members of the opposition are decrying the Office of the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs’ move to use 375 million Australian dollars ($395 million) from the aid budget to feed and shelter asylum seekers arriving in the country. The office did not immediately clarify which aid programs are being affected by the diversion of the funds.

Julia Newton-Howes of Care Australia even compared the government to “the Grinch that stole Christmas for some of the world’s poorest people,” The Australian reports. Alexia Huxley, acting executive director of Oxfam Australia, meanwhile, stressed that the money should have been spent on building more secure communities in poor countries and “possibly avoid” more people “resorting to desperate measures to start a new life in Australia,” The Sydney Morning Herald reports.

World Vision Australia CEO Tim Costello added that the decision is “damaging for Australia’s international reputation.” Marc Purcell, executive director of the Australian Council for International Developmentslammed the move as well, calling it a “politically expedient plundering of the aid budget for domestic political purposes,” according to The Border Mail.

The decision was announced just as experts are predicting an increase in the number of refugees and asylum seekers arriving in Australia from countries such as Sri Lanka. It was reportedly set to be formally announced over the Christmas break but some information was leaked by Treasury officials, who Australian media outlets said hinted at even deeper cuts to this year’s aid budget.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Bob Carr, meanwhile, stressed that the diversion of funds was a legitimate move in line with guidelines from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which counts funds used to support refugees and asylum seekers within a donor country as official development assistance.

The minister’s office also outlined how much some other OECD countries have spent on similar initiatives. The United States, for instance, reported $895 million worth of in-donor country refugee costs in 2010 while France reported $435 million.

Australia has reported $6 million in similar costs in 2010 and $1 million in 2009, making the sum announced Monday the largest the country would spend on this sector so far.

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About the author

  • Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.