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Wednesday, 23 January, 2002, 15:31 GMT
Australia stands by asylum policy
Asylum seekers at the refugee camp on Nauru
Nauru has taken in migrants in exchange for aid money
By Phil Mercer in Sydney

The Australian Government is insisting it will not soften its uncompromising stance on asylum, despite mounting protests at the length of time taken to process their refugee applications.

Since last August, the authorities have intensified their efforts to discourage illegal immigration by intercepting boatloads of asylum seekers before they reach Australia.

They are shipped to the Pacific islands of Nauru and Papua New Guinea to have their claims assessed there.

Those who do make it to Australia find themselves facing one of the toughest asylum regimes in the world, where they are automatically detained in immigration centres.

Most are kept for a few months, but some can spend up to five years locked away.

Growing discontent

There have been dozens of protests inside the six main detention camps in the last 18 months, including a mass breakout by 500 asylum seekers at Woomera and a riot that lasted for three days in December, which left 21 security guards injured.

Police at the Woomera detention centre of immigrants in southern Australia, December 2001
Woomera camp has been the scene of riots
Most of the detainees inside Woomera are from the Middle East and Afghanistan, and are angry at long delays in the processing of visas.

Those whose claims for refugee status are rejected are deported. But there is a lengthy appeal system.

Afghans are by far the largest group in the immigration centres, making up more than a quarter of all detainees.

The Australian Government denies there is a deliberate policy of slowing down the investigation of refugee claims to frustrate those behind the razor-wire fences.

Immigration officials say that security checks on all refugee applicants are taking longer following the 11 September attacks in the United States.

See also:

23 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Australian press criticises asylum stance
20 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Asylum escape foiled
19 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia's detention centre in the desert
28 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia boat children inquiry
31 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia defends asylum stance
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