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Sunday, 9 September, 2001, 03:42 GMT 04:42 UK
Australia talks tough on migrants
Transferring the first group of asylum seekers to the Manoora
The Manoora is on her way to Papua New Guinea
The Australian Government says it will maintain a tough stance to prevent illegal migrants reaching its territory.

The Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, said the government's actions showed its determination to crack down on people-smuggling.

He was speaking after the Australian navy intercepted a boat carrying more than 200 asylum-seekers off its north-west coast.

At no stage did this latest vessel reach Australian territorial waters. As a result questions of application for asylum status do not arise

Prime Minister John Howard

The migrants were taken off their boat on Friday night and put on the HMAS Manoora, the Australian troop ship already carrying more than 400 mainly Afghan asylum-seekers involved in a diplomatic stand-off near Christmas Island.

Australia was criticised internationally for the way it treated the first group of migrants - preventing them from coming ashore on Christmas Island.

Tough legislation

But Prime Minister John Howard has vowed to introduce legislation to tighten Australia's migration laws.

If approved, people would have to reach the Australian mainland rather than outlying islands before they could apply for refugee status.

Click here for map

Mr Howard said the latest boat was intercepted in international waters after it refused to stop.

"At no stage did this latest vessel reach Australian territorial waters. As a result questions of application for asylum status do not arise," he said.

John Howard
Howard wants to change migration laws

The Bali-registered boat was carrying 237 people, including 92 women.

It was spotted by a coastal patrol aircraft and stopped off Ashmore Island, a small Australian territory in the Timor Sea, closer to Indonesia than Australia.

"Following warnings to turn around... the vessel was subsequently boarded as a stateless vessel without a flag," the prime minister said.

The Manoora is continuing to Papua New Guinea, where it is expected in the capital Port Moresby early next week.

New policy on islands

Mr Howard said the new legislation would affect people reaching Christmas Island and Ashmore Island.

He said the two places would be taken out of the Australian migration zone so that anyone arriving there would no longer be able to apply for refugee status.

Mr Howard's hard line against the 400 Afghan refugees won him widespread public backing in Australia, which is expected to hold elections later this year.

Mr Howard said Australia asked Indonesia to stop the boat while it was in Indonesian waters, but the request was turned down.

On Friday, a delegation of Australian ministers failed to reach agreement in Jakarta on dealing with boats of asylum-seekers, which Australia describes as people-smuggling.

The original asylum-seekers on board the Manoora were put there after a Norwegian freighter which had picked them up was refused permission to land them at Christmas Island.

Mr Howard instead brokered a deal whereby they will be taken from Papua New Guinea to New Zealand and Nauru, where their asylum claims will be assessed.

It is not clear if the new refugees will be included in the original deal.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said her country, which volunteered to take 150 of the original asylum seekers, would not take any more.

"We will not be taking any more than we have indicated," a spokesman told Reuters news agency.

Return to text

The BBC's Clive Myrie
"Escaping their homeland for a better life has proved dangerous and exhausting"
The BBC's Michael Peschardt in Nauru
"The last thing it really needs is more people"
Paddy McGuinness of the Sydney Morning Herald
says Australia is simply distinguishing between genuine refugees and others
See also:

03 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia ships out Afghan refugees
04 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia voters back PM over refugees
01 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Pacific states step into the breach
01 Sep 01 | South Asia
Pakistan halts deportations
13 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia condemns vigilantes
31 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia's migrant policy under fire
12 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
Boost for anti-immigrant party
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