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Page last updated at 04:08 GMT, Tuesday, 13 October 2009 05:08 UK

Australia PM seeks migrant help

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

Australia's prime minister has made a personal plea to the Indonesian president to prevent a boatload of Sri Lankan migrants reaching Australia.

Kevin Rudd made the phone call over the weekend asking the Indonesian authorities to intervene.

The boat, which set off from Indonesia, had 260 suspected Sri Lankan asylum seekers, some women and children.

The vessel was intercepted by the Indonesian navy off Krakatoa and was reportedly escorted to West Java.

Mr Rudd said he had discussed "our continued co-operation on people-smuggling" during the phone call to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Saturday.

"I make no apology whatsoever for working as closely as I need with our Indonesian friends and partners to get the result we all need in terms of illegal immigration," he said, according to the Associated Press.

Surge

People smugglers often bring refugees to Australia by boat via Indonesia.

If the boat had reached Australian waters it would have been the largest number of asylum seekers since Mr Rudd's centre-left government came to office in 2007.

Map

Many of those seeking asylum are taken to an immigration detention centre on Christmas Island, about 2,575km (1,600 miles) north-west of the mainland, from where their applications are processed.

According to the Australian press, the centre is nearing its full capacity of 1,200 people.

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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