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Page last updated at 04:49 GMT, Wednesday, 16 September 2009 05:49 UK

Australia stops 'asylum' vessel

A boat with suspected asylum seekers off Australia's north-west coast. Photo: 15 September 2009
Australia has recently seen a surge in asylum seekers arriving on boats

An Australian navy ship has intercepted a boat carrying nearly 60 suspected asylum seekers - the fourth such incident in less than two weeks.

The boat was stopped some 420km (265 miles) north of Broome in Western Australia, officials said.

Those on board were being sent to an immigration detention centre on Christmas Island, about 2,575km (1,600 miles) north-west of the mainland.

The nationalities of the suspects were not immediately known.

"Situations around the world mean that large numbers of displaced persons are looking for settlement in wealthy, developed nations like Australia and can be targeted by, and fall prey to, people-smugglers," Australian Home Minister Brendan O'Connor said.

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"The Australian government remains vigilant and committed to protecting Australia's borders."

The minister also said Canberra would work closely with neighbouring nations to tackle people-smuggling.

The government has blamed the recent rise in asylum seekers on the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, along with the global economic downturn.

Australia's opposition has linked the upsurge with a relaxation of the country's immigration policy since Kevin Rudd became prime minister in late 2007.

The Rudd government scrapped the widely-criticised policy of his predecessor, John Howard, under which asylum-seekers and their children were detained for years in special centres in Nauru or Papua New Guinea, a plan labelled the "Pacific Solution".

Asylum-seekers now arriving by boat are held on Christmas Island, but their claims must be expedited, with six-monthly case reviews by an ombudsman now government policy.



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