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Wednesday, 31 October, 2001, 12:22 GMT
Australia defends asylum stance
HMAS Manoora off Nauru
Australia is sending migrants to Pacific neighbours
Australia's policy of turning away asylum seekers trying to enter the country by boat is paying off, the country's immigration minister has said.

Philip Ruddock said the country must keep its "nerve", despite international criticism for turning away about 1,500 refugees in the last two months.

If we weaken our resolve in these matters where is the limit?

Philip Ruddock, Immigration Minister
He said intelligence reports had estimated that 12,000 people would try to enter Australia illegally this year, but only 4,000 had got in so far.

On Wednesday the main opposition leader Kim Beazley said his Labor party would be just as tough in guarding Australia's coast against asylum seekers.

"Our security also requires that we protect Australia's borders," he said. "People smugglers are criminals and must be hounded out of the business."

Mr Beazley was making a major campaign speech ahead of the general election on 10 November. His main focus was on his spending plans for jobs, education and health.

Navy patrols

Labor has been closing the gap with Prime Minister John Howard's conservative coalition. At the start of the campaign, Mr Howard had a strong lead in the opinion polls following his tough stance on asylum seekers.

Labor leader Kim Beazley
Kim Beazley: Backing tough line
The issue came to the forefront in August when the government refused entry to 433 mainly Afghan migrants rescued by a Norwegian freighter from a sinking Indonesian boat.

Since then Australia has been turning away boatloads of asylum seekers. Many are escorted back to international waters by navy patrols.

Those who refuse to turn back are shipped to detention camps on the Pacific island states of Nauru and Papua New Guinea to have their asylum claims processed. Both countries are major recipients of Australian aid.

Mr Ruddock on Wednesday said the policy was deterring some asylum seekers.

Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock
Philip Ruddock: Sticking to asylum policy
"There is a very firm message out there now that people should not come by boat expecting that they're going to reach Australia," he said.

"If we weaken our resolve in these matters where is the limit?"

On Tuesday the Navy rescued about 230 asylum seekers from their sinking boat near Australia's remote Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean. Their asylum claims will be processed but the government has made it clear they are not welcome on the mainland.

Australia is still accepting up to 12,000 asylum seekers a year processed overseas under a resettlement program run by the United Nations refugee agency. (UNHCR).

See also:

30 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia rescues sinking refugees
28 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
'Hijacked' refugee boat found
26 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Two officers arrested over boat disaster
20 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia intercepts asylum boat
15 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Nauru accepts 260 more migrants
21 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Howard's refugee gamble paying off
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