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Kurdish Immigrants Seek Asylum in Indonesia After Australian Rejection - 2003-11-13

Several Kurdish immigrants who were barred from applying for refugee status in Australia have applied for asylum in Indonesia.

The 14 men are back in Indonesia, where they are being held by immigration authorities. At least 10 of them have applied for asylum in Indonesia and their cases will be assessed by the U.N. refugee agency.

Last week their battered fishing boat landed on a remote island off the northern coast of Australia after sailing from Indonesia.

Illegal immigration is one of the most divisive issues in Australia, and Prime Minister John Howard has promised to get tough with immigrants who tried to enter the country illegally. When the men arrived on Melville Island last week, his government declared it and 4,000 other islands were outside Australia's migration zone - the area where requests for refugee status would be recognized.

The men, all of them ethnic Kurds from Turkey, were returned to their boat and towed back to Indonesian waters by the Australian navy.

The United Nations has been critical of the Australian government's decision to bar the men from applying for asylum. The United Nations says it is "deeply troubled" because Australia had neglected its international obligations and in doing so had made already vulnerable people even more vulnerable by its actions.

Opposition politicians in Australia have been quick to criticize the government and will move to institute an enquiry.

The migrants say they have been traumatized by their experiences, and are now unclear about where their future lies.