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Thursday, 13 September, 2001, 12:41 GMT 13:41 UK
Australia links asylum policy to US attack
Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney lowered its flags to half mast on Thursday
A senior Australian minister has cited the terrorist attacks on the United States to justify the governments efforts to block asylum seekers trying to enter the country.

The remarks by Defence Minister Peter Reith came as the government tried on Thursday to overturn a court ruling that it had illegally detained hundreds of Afghan migrants during attempts to prevent them entering Australian territory.


An open door... is an invitation for trouble in the future

Peter Reith
Mr Reith said the attacks highlighted the government's case that it must have the right to refuse entry to unauthorised arrivals for security reasons.

The court ruling applies to 433 Afghan refugees currently being transported on board a troopship to the Pacific island state of Nauru after being picked up off Australia's Christmas Island last month.

(Click here for map)

Another 237 asylum seekers, also aboard the troop carrier HMAS Manoora but picked up from a sinking Indonesian boat on Saturday, are not affected by the ruling.

Appeal

Appealing against Tuesday's court ruling, which set a deadline of Friday for the refugees to be brought to Australian soil, the Solicitor General David Bennett argued the government had the executive power to turn away people trying to enter the country illegally even if it involved reasonable force and detention.

Australian Defence Minister Peter Reith
Peter Reith inspected reception facilities on Nauru earlier this week
Speaking to a commercial radio station, Mr Reith said the government had to be allowed to prevent entry in this way.

"Otherwise it can be a pipeline for terrorists to come in and use your country as a staging post for terrorist activities," he said.

But Australia's opposition leader Kim Beazley, who has so far broadly supported the government's policies on immigration, questioned on Thursday whether there was any basis in fact for Mr Reith's remarks.

He said intelligence briefings in relation to the threat of terrorist attack did not mention illegal immigrants. A judgement is expected in the next few days, if the government loses it can take the appeal to the High Court.

Defiant boatload

As the court sat, another boat containing 129 asylum

seekers breached a naval blockade to land on Ashmore Island, a remote uninhabited Australian reef favoured as a drop-off point by people seeking asylum.

The boat, the Sumbar Bahagia, defied warnings to change course. An Immigration Ministry spokesman said: "They insisted on coming in and some threatened to jump off they weren't allowed to."

The spokesman said there were no plans to bring the people to the mainland and they would remain with their boat until a decision is made on what to do with them.

UN warning

About 5,000 boat people have arrived in Australia annually in recent years, a sharp rise on the few hundred who arrived five years ago.

The Australian Government says there are up to another 9,000 potential migrants waiting in Indonesia and Malaysia to attempt a crossing, and its hardline policy has proved popular with the Australian public.

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) warned the government on Thursday it could be breaching its international obligations by preventing illegal immigrants from coming ashore.

"UNHCR would not wish to see Australia undertaking measures which would reverse an important and longstanding humanitarian tradition against so called 'push-off'," the UNHCR said.

Return to text

See also:

12 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia appeals against ship ruling
09 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia talks tough on migrants
04 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia voters back PM over refugees
03 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia ships out Afghan refugees
31 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia's migrant policy under fire
03 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Timeline: Nauru
03 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Nauru
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