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Wednesday, 3 April, 2002, 06:24 GMT 07:24 UK
Australia hunts for fugitive migrants
Escapees scaling the perimeter fence
The asylum seekers had help from activists
test hello test
By Phil Mercer
In Sydney
There is still no sign of about 10 asylum seekers who escaped from Australia's remote detention centre at Woomera in a mass break-out last week.

Releasing or helping detainees escape from lawful custody... is very unhelpful

Greg Conlon, human rights group Liberty Victoria
The police - who are combing vast areas of the South Australian desert - say one escapee returned voluntarily to the immigration camp late on Tuesday.

Two others were arrested earlier that day after emerging from the wilderness to flag down an unmarked police bus.

As the hunt for the fugitives continues, there is growing criticism of demonstrators who helped 50 detainees escape by tearing down perimeter fencing in a violent protest at Woomera.

Police detain one of the protesters
Thirty protesters are due in court in May
Wednesday was day five of the search for the remaining Afghan and Iraqi escapees who fled the detention camp during the confrontation between security guards and hundreds of protesters.

The police say two men picked up on the Stuart Highway south of Woomera on Tuesday had a backpack containing water, a 'phone card, and a map and compass, but were essentially ill-equipped for the harsh conditions of the outback.

Senior officers believe the remaining fugitives are in the same region but could be running out of vital supplies.

Public backing

Afghan community leaders in Australia have urged opponents of the government's refugee policy to stop using violence. They say it is ruining the image of asylum seekers in the wider community.

Opinion polls have suggested broad support for Prime Minister John Howard's tough stance on illegal immigration. Mr Howard has insisted the mandatory detention of asylum seekers is necessary on health and security grounds.

Greg Conlon from the human rights organisation, Liberty Victoria, said the protesters involved in the mass break-out were misguided.

"I don't have a problem with people demonstrating outside of Woomera but if you're going to do that you have to make sure you have control of what you're doing and it doesn't escalate into violence," he said.

"Releasing or helping detainees escape from lawful custody - because whether we like it or not the custody is lawful - is very unhelpful."

Thirty detainees have appeared before magistrates in the southern city of Adelaide charged with escaping from Woomera. They have been sent back to the detention centre and are due in court again at the end of next month.

The South Australian state government says it plans to send a child protection team to Woomera to investigate claims that young detainees have been traumatised during their incarceration.

The former missile testing base 500 kilometres (311 miles) north of Adelaide has been plagued with problems - including hunger strikes and riots - since it became an immigration processing centre three years ago.

See also:

02 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Australian break-out refugees in court
01 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Search continues for Australian refugees
31 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
Activists outwit Australia's asylum policy
30 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
Australian police hunt camp escapees
29 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
In pictures: Woomera riot
24 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Australia lifts asylum claim freeze
23 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Australia stands by asylum policy
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