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Australia to Accept More Immigrants Next Year - 2002-05-07

Australia's Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock has announced an increase in the intake of immigrants in the coming year. The government says it will stick to its tough policy of barring entry to those trying to enter the country illegally.

Philip Ruddock's announcement of a 10 percent increase in the overall number of immigrants allowed into Australia is the biggest in a decade. The immigration minister said the country's economic future depends on attracting skilled workers from overseas.

But Mr. Ruddock said around 12,000 refugees will be allowed in. This includes a provision to accept some of the asylum seekers currently detained in Australian-sponsored processing camps in the Pacific and at immigration centers across Australia.

Philip Ruddock has told a migration conference in Sydney the Australian government's commitment to its humanitarian obligations will continue. "I'm pleased to be able to confirm that it will consist of some 12,000 places. These will be supplemented by any used places rolled over from the current year's program. Within the program will be 4,000 places for refugees resettled from offshore. Included in these 4,000 places will be any refugees accepted by Australia from the intercepted caseloads in Indonesia and the offshore processing centers in Papua New Guinea and Nauru," Mr. Ruddock said.

Mr. Ruddock's speech was greeted outside the conference center by dozens of noisy demonstrators, who voiced their opposition to Australia's mandatory detention of asylum seekers.

For years, refugees from Asia and the Middle East have been trying to reach Australia aboard boats run by people-smugglers mainly out of Indonesia.

Australia has come under fire from human rights advocates for its tough stand against illegal immigration, but argues its policy is fair. It claims many asylum seekers pay huge sums to be smuggled in, effectively jumping ahead of poorer refugees.

But critics argue the government should be increasing the number of refugees it allows into the country as well as skilled workers. They insist there should be a balance between economics and compassion.