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Page last updated at 03:31 GMT, Friday, 16 October 2009 04:31 UK

Australia PM unmoved by refugees

By Nick Bryant
BBC News, Sydney

Sri Lankan migrants in Indonesia
The migrants were intercepted on their way to Australia

The Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has said he will not be moved by any actions from a group of more than 250 Sri Lankan asylum seekers.

They are moored in a port in West Java, Indonesia, and are staging a hunger strike to highlight their plight.

Emotional appeals from some of the asylum seekers have been broadcast on Australian television.

But Mr Rudd said that their individual cases should be processed by the United Nations.

Angry debate

Kevin Rudd has said his government will not be swayed by what he described as "any tactics deployed by any particular person".

This was a reference to the hunger strike launched by Sri Lankan asylum seekers who had set out to reach his country.

I'm telling you, Tamils do not have an opportunity to survive in Sri Lanka
Alex, Sri Lankan asylum seeker

They were intercepted over the weekend by the Indonesian navy, following a personal plea from Mr Rudd to Indonesia's president, and are now being held in a port in West Java.

There they have been interviewed by Australian journalists and their desperate appeals for help from Mr Rudd have been broadcast and re-broadcast.

"Sri Lanka refugees, we have lived in forest for one month. Please, sir, please take us to a country. It's OK if it is not Australia. It's better if any other country trades us. We can't live in Sri Lanka," said a nine-year-old girl, Brinda.

"We're just people without a country to live in," said Alex, the leader of the group of ethnic Tamils.

"But the situation in our country right now, I'm telling you, Tamils do not have an opportunity to survive in Sri Lanka," he said.

The voices have cut through what is becoming an increasingly angry political debate over the Rudd government's border protection policies.

There has been a tenfold increase this year in the number of asylum seekers reaching Australian waters, and the opposition blames the government for relaxing its refugee laws.

The Australian government, which does not want to be outflanked on the issue, claims its policies are tough but humane.



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