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Monday, 7 February, 2000, 10:26 GMT
Boat people stitch up lips

Australian refugee camps Immigrants are often housed in camps in the Australian outback

About 12 boat people in Australia have sewn the edges of their lips together in protest at the slow processing of their applications for refugee status.

The protesters are believed to be of Afghan or Middle Eastern origin. They are also thought to be unhappy about the conditions in the refugee camp at Curtin airbase near Derby in north-west Australia.

The same group of refugees began a hunger strike on Wednesday. A statement issued by the protesters last week read: "We are suffering inside the camp. Where is human rights? Please help us, we will die if nobody comes to help us."

They say they are coming from oppression. We are looking after them. I would have thought that there might be a little gratitude
Richard Court, Premier of Western Australia

Some of the boat people are reported to have given up the protest and had the stitches in their lips removed.

The Australian Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said that officials would not bow to pressure.

"They can still talk and they can still take food and water," Mr Ruddock said.

The state premier of Western Australia, Richard Court, condemned the protest on Monday.

"What a nerve to complain about a refugee system which they have thwarted. They have come illegally into this country. I don't think they are in a very strong position to complain," Mr Court said.

Reducing illegal immigration

Australia has been attempting to stem the numbers of illegal immigrants entering the country.

In December last year, Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock, toured the Middle East - the region from which many of Australia's illegal immigrants come.

Chinese boatpeople in Australia Some 3,000 illegal immigrants are in Australian detention camps

The government has been targeting so-called 'people smugglers' who charge thousands of dollars to transport refugees to Australia by the crowded, unsanitary boatload.

A campaign launched in the Middle East included posters warning people of the tough penalties for trying to jump the immigration queue.

"You will NOT be welcome, you WILL be kept in detention centres, thousands of kilometres from Sydney and you could LOSE all your money and be sent back," the posters said.

Boat people granted refugee status in Australia are no longer eligible for permanent residency as part of temporary protection visas, and instead have to apply for three-year visas.

Authorities are now holding some 3,000 people in detention camps around the country.

Amnesty International has criticised Australia for focusing on boat people when government records showed far more illegal immigrants from Britain and the United States.

Australian official figures suggest that there were about 50,000 people living illegally in Australia after overstaying their visas.

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See also:
23 Dec 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Australia cracks down on people smuggling
12 Aug 99 |  Americas
The deadly trade of human smuggling
14 Aug 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Australians seize Iraqi 'illegals'
13 Aug 99 |  Americas
Human smugglers caught off US coast
06 Jun 99 |  Asia-Pacific
'No Olympic amnesty for illegals'
17 Jun 99 |  Asia-Pacific
New Zealand toughens immigration laws

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