Australia intercepts boat carrying 54 Vietnamese
A boat carring 54 Vietnamese was detained close to Australia's west coast on Tuesday, the first boat people to be intercepted since the government imposed tough anti-immigration measures 18 months ago.india Updated: Jul 02, 2003 10:20 IST
A boat carring 54 Vietnamese was detained close to Australia's west coast on Tuesday, the first boat people to be intercepted since the government imposed tough anti-immigration measures 18 months ago.
Officials said eight children and a baby were among the asylum seekers, who were being taken to a camp on Australia's remote Indian Ocean outpost of Christmas Island, 2,400 km (1,450 miles) west of Darwin.
"They will be detained under the migration act, taken to Christmas Island and processed," a spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock told Reuters.
Australia has long had one of the world's toughest policies on illegal immigration, with all illegal arrivals locked up in remote outback camps, often for years while their claims for asylum were processed.
The navy was ordered in late 2001 to intercept boats at sea, with illegal arrivals sent to new camps set up in neighbouring Pacific states Nauru and Papua New Guinea after initial processing.
Australia had hailed that tough new policy a success, with no new arrivals since December 2001.
Channel Seven television reported that the fishing boat carrying the Vietnamese had come to within three km (1.8 miles) of Port Hedland on the remote north coast of Western Australia state.
The immigration department spokeswoman would not confirm the television report but said she did not know how the boat had sailed through Australian waters without being detected earlier.
Canberra sealed Australia's borders when it lost patience with the lucrative people smuggling trade after arrivals rose to 5,000 a year -- a trickle by global standards but a jump on just a few hundred previously -- and sealed its borders in mid-2001.
Many of the asylum seekers were from the Middle East and Afghanistan and had targeted Australia after paying people smugglers based in Indonesia. They often made the journey in rickety boats with inadequate supplies.
The controversial policy of intercepting asylum seekers at sea was condemned by international human rights groups but won widespread support at home for Prime Minister John Howard's conservative government, helping it to win a general election later in 2001.