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The BBC's Dominic Hughes
"A police road block has been set up"
 real 28k

The BBC's Andrew Webb
"A brief taste of freedom for hundreds of asylum seekers"
 real 28k

Friday, 9 June, 2000, 10:30 GMT 11:30 UK
Another immigrant breakout in Australia
boat
Numbers of 'boat people' in Australia have been rising
Another group of mostly Middle Eastern refugees has broken out of a refugee camp in Australia, this time in the far north-west of the country.

Up to 150 detainees, including women and children, are reported to have torn down a fence at the Curtin detention centre and headed towards the town of Derby, about 50km away.

In South Australia, the authorities are still refusing to negotiate with more than 500 illegal immigrants who escaped from a camp at the remote desert town of Woomera, insisting they return to the camp.

In a radio interview, Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock described the Curtin break-out as a "copycat exercise".

Conditions and entitlements

At Woomera, a former rocket base re-opened last year to cope with an increase in illegal immigrants, the fugitives - mainly from Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq - spent a cold and hungry night in a supermarket car park.


They are protesting against conditions at the camp and delays in processing their applications for refugee status.

Australian police rushed reinforcements to Woomera after about 200 immigrants first broke out at around midnight on Wednesday and ran through the town shouting "We want freedom".

Another 250 broke out at noon on Thursday and a third group pushed down the fence again in daylight.

Residents say the town's only policeman was powerless to stop them.

Australia's rising tide of 'boat people'
1999-2000 YTD: 1,066
1998-99: 926
1997-98: 157
1996-97: 356

There has been a dramatic rise in the number of 'boat people' in the past 18 months, particularly from China and the Middle East, where criminal gangs organise runs.

Mr Ruddock said last year: "We are facing the biggest assault to our borders by unauthorised arrivals ever."

Both the government and main opposition parties have condemned the breakouts, although an opposition spokesman said asylum assessments were taking too long.

Woomera - headquarters for Britain's atomic bomb tests in the 1950s - is one of six detention centres in Australia housing a total of around 3,600 illegal immigrants.

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See also:

18 Feb 00 | Asia-Pacific
Australians seize Iraqi 'illegals'
07 Feb 00 | Asia-Pacific
Boat people stitch up lips
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