- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 26, 2002

SYDNEY, Australia The Australian government says its tough immigration policies, a source of widespread international criticism, kept out of the country several Muslim militants linked to the group behind a bombing in Indonesia last month.
An investigation ordered after the bombing in Bali found that 10 Indonesians belonging to Jemaah Islamiya or other groups seeking an Indonesian Islamic state had their applications for political asylum rejected in the 1990s and left the country.
Recent developments have underscored "the importance of the government's place in border control and border integrity," said Steve Ingram, spokesman for the immigration minister.
Jemaah Islamiya, a terrorist group with links to al Qaeda, is blamed for the Oct. 12 bombing of the nightclub district in Bali's Kuta Beach that killed nearly 200 people, more than half of them Australian tourists.
Of the 10 rejected asylum seekers, most had left Australia by the end of 1997, Mr. Ingram said.
One was granted permanent residency in 1996 under another arrangement and is living somewhere in the country, he said. If the man is located, his residency status could be revoked.
Australia provoked international outrage last year when it refused to let the Norwegian freighter Tampa unload more than 400 Afghan and Pakistani refugees rescued from a sinking smuggler's ship.
Authorities kept the freighter at sea in a drama that took weeks to resolve. Eventually, Canada stepped in and parceled out the refugees to willing host countries. Australia eventually accepted a handful, which it sent to detention centers while asylum applications were considered.
Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock says the government's hard line on unauthorized immigration has paid off.
But with more than a thousand people living in detention centers dotted across the mainland, not everyone agrees.
The immigration minister has "been successful in reducing the flow of unauthorized arrivals by boat, but the cost has been some loss of humanity in the treatment of people before they've committed a crime," said Glenn Withers, a professor at the Australian National University in Canberra who specializes in immigration.
Mr. Withers objects to the government policy of mandatory detention in what he calls "prisonlike conditions" while asylum applications are processed.
But he said strong border control is needed to protect the formal migration system, which allows for 4,000 to 12,000 refugees per year.
The government's recent success in deterring human smuggling stems in part from the Tampa incident, in which the refugees had traveled through other countries and not asked for asylum until they reached Australian waters.
Within a month of turning away the freighter, Prime Minister John Howard introduced a series of legislative changes to crack down on unauthorized arrivals.
The number of boat people arriving in Australia has dropped by more than 25 percent in the 12-month period ending June 30.
Since July 1, there have been no known new arrivals of boat people.
Using detention centers for boat people on the mainland may also be phased out.
Jeremy Moore, a human rights advocate with the Woomera Lawyers Group, said he expects four of the six centers on the mainland to close.
The dilemma faced by the government, Mr. Withers said, is what to do with the last 500 or so boat people, including about 75 children, most of whom have been refused asylum.
Laurie Ferguson, an opposition party spokeswoman, said Australia's policy may appear successful in the short term, but the influx of boat people varies over time.
She questioned whether the electorate will support the high costs of detention.
At an average $72 a day, each detainee costs $27,500 a year, according to government figures.
A few women and children have been put into separate facilities at the infamous Woomera detention center in South Australia.
Woomera gained notoriety when inmates sewed their lips together to protest conditions.
Citizen groups like Circle of Friends in Adelaide and the Refugee Advocacy Service of South Australia want families placed in the community.
"Whether or not we want them here, we're treating them in a way that's atrocious," said David Winderlich, a volunteer with Circle of Friends.
Mr. Ruddock would like shorter processing times, but he maintains the process was conducted "humanely." Australia should be able to choose the immigrants it wants, he said, stressing that those denied asylum will not be allowed to stay.


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