Australia’s plan to divert hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid to asylum-seekers at home came under fire on Tuesday, with critics saying it would take away significant amounts of money previously allotted to the world’s poorest people.

The Australian Council for International Development called the plan to spend up to Aus$375 million ($395 million) on basic necessities, including food, shelter and other essential items, for refugees waiting to have their claims heard in Australia was “an appalling breach of trust between the government and the Australian public.”

Executive director Marc Purcell said it was time for Canberra “to show leadership” as it sought a significant position in the United Nations Security Council.

“If these funds are siphoned away from health programmes, it could literally mean the difference between life and death for some of the world’s most vulnerable people, including those in our region,” World Vision Australia chief executive Tim Costello said.

Foreign Minister Bob Carr said the move was “absolutely fair”.

“The fact is the OECD guidelines provide that if you’re spending money on refugees and potential refugees on your own soil, it’s to be counted as if you were spending money on refugees or potential refugees in refugee camps around the world,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

This comes as Canberra attempts to curb the increasing number of asylum-seekers coming to the country in rickety boats, AFP reports.