Australia in new refugee standoff

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The Independent Online

Yet another boatload of asylum-seekers arrived in Australian waters yesterday, just 12 hours after the Prime Minister, John Howard, claimed victory in his campaign to keep illegal immigrants away from the country's shores.

Mr Howard, whose hard line on asylum-seekers has boosted his fortunes in the run-up to a general election on 10 November, said on Friday that a boatload of would-be refugees heading for Australia had been persuaded to return to Indonesian waters for the first time.

Yesterday, though, 220 mainly Afghan asylum-seekers moored off Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean. They were intercepted by a navy frigate but pressed on to their destination, according to a spokesman for Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock.

Mr Ruddock said they would not set foot on Australian soil, and their fate would be decided shortly. The government's policy is to send asylum-seekers to Pacific islands, including Nauru and Papua New Guinea, for their claims to be processed. One group on Christmas Island is waiting to be flown to Papua New Guinea.