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Page last updated at 11:26 GMT, Monday, 12 October 2009 12:26 UK

Asylum for boat-explosion Afghans

A boat with suspected asylum seekers off Australia's north-west coast. Photo: 15 September 2009
Many refugees attempt to reach Australia by sea

The Australian government is to grant refugee status to 42 Afghan men who survived a boat explosion that killed five other asylum seekers in April.

This month, the police announced that passengers had deliberately set fire to the boat after it had been intercepted by the Australian navy.

But officers said there was insufficient evidence to bring charges.

The government said the men could lose the visas if new evidence emerges that they were involved in the explosion.

The boat was carrying 47 Afghan asylum seekers and two Indonesian crew members when it exploded, after being intercepted by the Australian navy some 600km (370 miles) off the north-west coast of the country.

Five passengers were killed and dozens more were injured.

Map

But even though the police determined that at least one asylum seeker set fire to the boat deliberately, they were unable to pinpoint who precisely was involved.

The only charges brought in relation to the incident were against the Indonesian sailors, who have been accused of people smuggling but are not suspects in the fatal fire.

Now, the surviving Afghan asylum seekers, many of whom sustained bad burns in the explosion, are to be granted refugee status in Australia.

The country's immigration minister said they had been found to be genuine refugees because of the situation in Afghanistan and the potential threat to their lives if they returned to their homeland.

A coroner's inquest into the incident opens in Darwin in January.

The state premier of Western Australia criticised the federal government for granting the migrants refugee status before the inquest.

"I think they should have waited until after that inquest was held," Colin Barnett told reporters.



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SEE ALSO
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16 Sep 09 |  Asia-Pacific
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17 Apr 09 |  Asia-Pacific
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16 Apr 09 |  Asia-Pacific
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27 Oct 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Australia abandons asylum policy
29 Jul 08 |  Asia-Pacific

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