Australia intercepts 12th refugee boat

SYDNEY, May 11, 2009 (AFP) – The latest in a steady stream of refugee boats was intercepted off Australia Monday, officials said, fuelling controversy over the government’s softer line on asylum seekers.

It was the 12th suspected people-smuggling ship to be stopped in Australian waters or to have made landfall since January, which have brought in more than six hundred refugees, mostly from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.

The vessel, carrying 31 passengers and three crew, was intercepted by a border patrol boat about 23 nautical miles (42 kilometres) north of the Tiwi Islands off northern Australia, Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus said.

“The group will be transferred to Christmas Island where they will undergo health, security and other checks to establish their identity and reasons for travel”, Debus said in a statement.

Christmas Island, about 2,600 kilometres from mainland Australia, is used to hold asylum seekers while their claims are being processed.

A total of 18 boats have arrived since last September, when the centre-left Labor government rolled back restrictive measures which regularly left asylum seekers, including children, locked up for years in immigration centres.

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