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Australia Marks First Anniversary of Tampa Incident - 2002-08-26


Amnesty International and other human-rights groups sharply criticized Australia's immigration policies today (Monday), one year after a refugee incident at sea that dramatized the government's strict policy on admitting asylum seekers.

Exactly one year ago, Australia refused entry to a Norwegian cargo ship (the Tampa) carrying more than 400 asylum-seekers -- mostly Afghans -- rescued from a sinking Indonesian ferry. Australia eventually agreed to transport the illegal migrants to third countries while their visa applications were processed, but at the same time the government increased border security, and declared that anyone arriving illegally would not be granted temporary asylum. Immigrants who reach Australia's shores now are held in detention while their asylum requests are processed.

The new policies proved popular with most Australians, who gave Prime Minister John Howard a third term in office in last November's elections.

Amnesty International says the policy of sending asylum-seekers to detention camps only continues the cycle of fear and uncertainty the refugees are feeling.

An Amnesty spokesman (Graham Thoms) says the flow of people seeking asylum in Australia appears to have been stemmed, but that has only created more problems for other refugees trying to flee human-rights abuses in their own countries.

Amnesty International says Australia's immigration policies have damaged the country's reputation for fairness and humanity.

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