The Australian government has refused to allow a Norwegian cargo ship carrying 434 asylum seekers to enter port in Australia. It is the latest tough move by Australia toward illegal immigrants.
The Norwegian freighter rescued the asylum seekers late Sunday from a crippled Indonesian vessel, which had lost power in waters between Indonesia and Australia.
The ship's captain, Arne Rinnan, says he had planned to take the group to the Indonesian port of Marak. But he says he was forced to head for the remote Australian outpost of Christmas Island, after five of the asylum seekers came onto the bridge and threatened to jump overboard if he didn't take them to Australia.
The ship, however, was denied access to Australian waters. Australian Prime Minister John Howard says, under international law, the vessel should have gone to the nearest port, which was in Indonesia. Mr. Howard says that, after careful legal consideration, his government notified the ship it did not have permission to dock.
"It is our view that, as a matter of international law, this matter is something that must be resolved between the government of Indonesia and the government of Norway," said the prime minister.
The decision reflects an increasingly hardline stance Australia is adopting to deter illegal immigrants from coming to Australia.
More that 10,000 people have arrived illegally in Australia since the ruling conservative government came to power in 1996.
Most asylum-seekers are from the Middle East and South Asia, and usually travel through Indonesia with the help of smugglers.
Prime Minister Howard says it is time for Australia to send a clear message to those involved in human trafficking. "We simply cannot allow a situation to develop where Australia is seen around the world as a country of easy destination," he said.
Human rights and religious groups have been highly critical of Australia's strict immigration policies, which include automatic, and often times lengthy, detentions, while visa applications are processed.