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Australia Charges Four With Trying to Smuggle Refugees - 2001-09-04


Australian authorities have charged four Indonesians with trying to smuggle more than 400 asylum seekers into Australia.

The four were allegedly members of the crew of an Indonesian ferry that began sinking August 26 while attempting to take the mostly Afghan refugees to Australia. They face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

A Norwegian cargo ship rescued the asylum seekers at sea, but the vessel was denied permission by Australian officials to dock at Australia's Christmas island. Australia's refusal to accept the migrants was widely criticized.

The refugees remained stranded on the Norwegian ship off the island for more than a week before they were transferred to an Australian troop ship on Monday for a voyage to Papua New Guinea.

Once they arrive, the refugees will be flown to New Zealand and the island of Nauru, where their asylum applications will be processed. If the applications are approved, the refugees will be sent to other countries for resettlement, including Australia and New Zealand.

The voyage to Papua New Guinea was part of an Australian-brokered deal designed to break week-long deadlock over the fate of the refugees.

The Australian government, which has been deluged with refugee applications and an increasing stream of illegal migrants, says it is drawing the line on illegal migration. The government's hard-line stance has received strong support from the Australian public.

Some information for this report provided by AFP and Reuters.

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