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Saturday, 31 March, 2001, 09:15 GMT 10:15 UK
Australia's migrant policy under fire
Boat people are among the illegal immigrants Australia wants to deter
Thousands of illegal immigrants enter by boat
By Dominic Hughes in Sydney

Australia's policy of detaining illegal immigrants has come under fresh scrutiny following a riot by asylum seekers at a detention centre.

Police were called to quell the violence at the Port Hedland centre in north-west Australia, which began after three detainees were told they would be sent back to Iran.

The country's tough stance has been criticised in the past by the United Nations and human rights groups.

But the government says it has been prompted by a steep rise in the number of people trying to enter the country unlawfully, particularly by boat.

Numbers rising

Last year there were more than 4,100 - the year before fewer than 1,000.

Australian Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock
Philip Ruddock: Tough stance

Many of those who arrive have undertaken the perilous sea crossing from Indonesia in vessels that are only just afloat.

Most of them are from the Middle East, particularly Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, with some from the southern provinces of China.

They come from all backgrounds: Doctors, clerical workers, lawyers and mechanics.

Australian law means they are sent to one of six detention centres for illegal immigrants, which currently house about 1,900 people.

Protests foreseen

Philip Ruddock, the Immigration Minister, warned last week that there could be further protests at the Port Hedland centre, which houses most of the detainees who are at the end of their appeal process.

The Australian Government says that it welcomes more than 49,000 legal migrants each year and that people who enter the country illegally are jumping the queue.

But human rights groups and UN committees have criticised the policy of detention, arguing that Australia is breaching its international commitments on the treatment of refugees.

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See also:

22 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
Immigrants riot in Australian camp
12 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
Boost for anti-immigrant party
13 Dec 00 | Asia-Pacific
Migrants missing in Australian seas
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