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Wednesday, June 16, 1999 Published at 08:52 GMT 09:52 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

New Zealand toughens immigration laws

Reports say boat-loads of Chinese are heading for Auckland

By Greg Ward in Auckland

The New Zealand government has rushed to tighten up its immigration laws following reports that a ship-load of Chinese boat people is sailing towards Auckland.

New Zealand's immigration laws were due to be toughened up after October, but news that more than 100 Chinese boat people are heading for New Zealand prompted the government to act with urgency.

Until now, people claiming refugee status could be held for just 28 days while their future was determined. Now they can be held indefinitely.

The new measures will also speed up processing and reduce the time in which would-be refugees can lodge appeals.

A government spokesman said racketeers operating in China's southern provinces had recently been caught trying to smuggle people into Australia - and now New Zealand needed to act.

Panic attack

Opposition MPs have opposed the new legislation, saying the status of the boat people is being pre-determined. They have accused the government of panicking.

The Chinese now heading this way on a fishing trawler are believed to be from the southern Chinese province of Fujian.

They left the Solomon Islands at the weekend, telling locals they were heading to New Zealand.

Television New Zealand has reported that there are two other boats in the Pacific, both carrying ethnic Chinese and both believed to be heading this way.

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