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Australia to Investigate Deaths of Rejected Afghan Asylum Seekers

The Australian government is investigating reports that the Taliban killed up to 20 Afghans who were denied asylum in Australia and sent back to Afghanistan. They allegedly were among 400 asylum seekers denied entry into Australia by the former government. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

The Australian television network SBS plans to air a documentary next month alleging that the Taliban killed as many as 20 of the refugees when they returned to Afghanistan. SBS says dozens more are in hiding to avoid the Islamist militants.

The Australian government wants to investigate the allegation that the 20 were among 400 asylum seekers who were denied entry to the country.

The film's producer has spent six years tracing many of the rejected Afghan asylum seekers.

Hundreds were held on the island of Nauru under the previous government's controversial policy of shipping illegal migrants off to remote camps.

About 400 Afghans went home after the government of former Prime Minister John Howard rejected their requests for asylum. Refugee advocates say officials told them it was safe to return home and that they risked being held in custody indefinitely if they refused to go.

One of the architects of the old policy, former Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock, says the returnees were treated properly.

"It was in a creditable process and they voluntarily agreed to leave and if people have lost their lives one doesn't necessarily know that this is because they were particularly targeted because of who they were," he said.

Among the alleged victims were two girls killed by Taliban extremists. The Australian government turned down their father's asylum application in 2002.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who won national elections last year, promised to end Australia's long-standing practice of detaining asylum seekers who enter the country illegally.

Each year, Australia accepts more than 10,000 refugees who enter the country legally, and as well as thousands more migrants who enter for work or other reasons. The previous government sought to end a surge of illegal migrants, who often paid smugglers thousands of dollars to sneak them into the country by boat.