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Sunday, June 27, 1999 Published at 10:19 GMT 11:19 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Australia to crack down on illegal immigrants

Sydney: A key destination for illegal immigrants from China

Australia has announced a new campaign to try to combat the increasing problem of human trafficking.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said on Sunday that a new coastal surveillance programme would be set up to stem the tide of illegal immigrants into the country.

Plans also include putting more immigration officers overseas and increasing cooperation between the intelligence services.

In the past few months, waves of illegal immigrants have arrived from east Asia on Australia's western, northern and eastern coasts. Many were from the People's Republic of China.

A task force comprising military and naval experts was appointed to study the problem at the beginning of June, after more than 100 boatpeople from China were detained when they tried to sail into Sydney.

Syndicate bosses

Australia's Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer said at the time that gangsters organising the smuggling of people from China were spreading rumours that it would be easy to settle in Australia because of the Olympic Games next year.

A recent report in the Sydney Morning Herald said Australia was targeting violent criminal gangs operating immigration rackets out of Bankok, in an attempt to stem the growing numbers of foreigners arriving illegally at Australian airports.

So far, the government has concentrated on the immigrants, now it appears to be going for the syndicate bosses.

At the beginning of June, China announced a new campaign to crack down on snakeheads - gang bosses who specialise in smuggling people out of the country for high fees.

It said they would be given harsh penalties. Border guards were told to make the campaign a priority and efforts are being concentrated in five coastal areas.

Australia and the United States are the most popular destinations for illegal immigrants from China.

A Federal Labour politician in Australia was recently investigated by the National Crime Authority for allegedly receiving thousands of dollars from Chinese wanting to settle in the country.

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