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Australia: No to New Asylum Seekers - 2001-09-08

Australia has prevented a boat carrying about 200 asylum seekers from entering Australian waters. The Australian navy boarded the boat in international waters.

An Australian navy ship spotted the boat in Indonesian waters late Friday, heading for remote Ashmore reef, just inside Australia's territorial zone.

Naval officers warned the boat to turn around, but it continued heading toward Australia. Australian Prime Minister John Howard says, when the boat reached international waters, naval authorities boarded.

They provided food and blankets to the group, and later took them off the boat and put them on another Australian navy ship, the Manoora, which is already transporting more than 400 asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea. The first group will be flown to New Zealand or Nauru, to have their claims for asylum processed. "There were no injuries done to anyone, and the operation was carried out very efficiently," The Prime Minister said.

Mr. Howard also announced his government will introduce new legislation to limit refugee claims, as more asylum seekers are intercepted in Australian waters. He says the government will change the Migration Act to remove Ashmore Reef and Christmas Island from Australia's migration zone. The move would mean asylum seekers arriving on either Christmas Island or Ashmore Reef would no longer be eligible to apply for refugee status.

"It has implications for the ease of people seeking asylum," Mr Howard said. "It will mean in practice, as I understand it, they will need to touch the Australian mainland, or other Australian territories, in order to found an application for asylum."

Discussions are underway regarding the future processing of the latest boatload of asylum seekers.

New Zealand says it will definitely not take any further asylum seekers wanting to land in Australia. The government of Nauru says it has not had any official word about the fate of the latest group.

Nauru has agreed to process the claims of most of the first group of illegal immigrants, rescued last month by a Norwegian freighter, the Tampa.