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Australia Investigates Asylum Fraud - 2002-07-22

The Australian government says it is investigating hundreds of cases of suspected identity fraud by asylum seekers claiming to be from Afghanistan.

Australian Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock says the government is revoking 50 temporary visas issued to asylum seekers because of fraud. He says the individuals involved are mostly Pakistanis who falsely claimed to be refugees from Afghanistan.

The government will first, however, allow those in question to offer proof of their national origin before they can be deported.

Mr. Ruddock says another 300 people given interim protection in Australia are being investigated.

Refugee advocates are calling the investigation a "cynical attempt" by the government to get rid of more genuine asylum seekers.

Australia takes in thousands of refugees every year, but has introduced more stringent measures in recent years to cut down the number of illegal immigrants seeking entry.

The latest immigration controversy over identity fraud surfaced last week, two young brothers escaped from an Australian immigration center and sought asylum at the British Consulate in Melbourne.

The boys, aged 12 and 13, were returned to the Woomera Detention Center after the British rejected their request.

Australian immigration authorities say the boys are from Quetta, Pakistan, not Afghanistan. Their father was granted temporary asylum in Australia last year. His position is being reviewed and his visa could be revoked if the government here believes irregularities have occurred.