Page last updated at 13:01 GMT, Friday, 13 November 2009

Tamil asylum seekers leave ship

Tamil asylum seekers from Sri Lanka on board Australia customs ship Oceanic Viking - 29 October 2009
The Tamils have been on the Oceanic Viking for nearly one month

Twenty-two Sri Lankan asylum seekers have come ashore from an Australian customs ship anchored in Indonesia's waters, Indonesian officials have said.

They were among 78 ethnic Tamils on the Oceanic Viking, moored off Bintan island near Singapore, who had refused to leave the ship.

The Oceanic Viking picked them up during its duties in Indonesia's maritime search zone last month.

The 22 men are being taken to Bintan to have their asylum claims processed.

The Tamils will be processed at an Australian-funded detention centre at Tanjung Pinang on Bintan.

Indonesia agreed to take the asylum seekers last month as part of an agreement with Australia to cope with an influx of migrants to both countries.

The Tamils initially refused to leave the ship, saying they wanted to be taken directly to Australia. The remaining 56 Tamils are still on the Oceanic Viking.

The Australian government was reported to have offered the Tamils resettlement within four to six weeks if they agreed to leave the ship.

But Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said their claims were not being fast-tracked.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans said most of the Tamils could end up in Australia if their claims were found to be genuine.

An upsurge in asylum seekers arriving in Australia this year has prompted the opposition to claim the government has made the country a soft target for people smugglers.

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