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Australian Court Victory for Migrants - 2001-09-11


A federal judge in Melbourne has ruled Australia acted illegally when it turned away of boatload of mostly Afghan asylum seekers last month. The court has ordered the government to accept the 433 people and process their claims for asylum. The Australian government says it will appeal the decision.

Federal Court Judge Tony North ordered Tuesday the Australian government to take in the 433 asylum seekers. He said Canberra had acted outside the law when it denied entry to the boatload of migrants on August 27. "They procured the closing of the harbor so that the rescuees would be isolated," Judge North said. "They did not allow communication with the rescuees. They did not consult with them about the arrangements being made for their physical relocation or future plans."

Judge North has given the government until Friday to comply with the order to transport the asylum seekers back to Australia to begin processing their immigration claims.

The packed courtroom broke into spontaneous applause as the judge finished reading a summary of his ruling. But the excitement was short-lived after the Australian government announced it will appeal the court's decision.

The group was transferred last week to an Australian Navy vessel after remaining stranded for a week just off Australia's Christmas Island on a Norwegian freighter. The freighter had rescued them from a sinking Indonesia boat illegally transporting them to Australia.

Under an international deal, Nauru and New Zealand agreed to process their claims for asylum.

Meanwhile another boat carrying more than 130 asylum seekers has run aground on Ashmore Reef off Australia's northwest coast. Canberra says it is assisting the ship but will not accept the illegal migrants.

The Australian government says it will introduce legislation next week to exclude Ashmore Reef and Christmas Island from Australia's migration zone, thereby depriving the asylum seekers of the right to apply for refugee status.

Thousands of illegal migrants, mostly from the Middle East and South Asia, have been arriving on Australian shores each year. Many of them come by boats operated by criminal human smugglers.

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