9 May 2006

Australia intercepts three Papuan asylum seekers

2:36 pm on 9 May 2006

Australia says it intercepted three asylum seekers from Indonesia's Papua province off the country's northern coast three days ago.

This was today made public by the immigration minister, Amanda Vanstone, who says the three were travelling in a small unpowered native boat when they were intercepted by immigration officials on Boigu Island.

She says they are in custody on Horn Island.

Ms Vanstone says they were caught in what Australia describes as an excised part of the country where it is impossible to apply for asylum.

Ms Vanstone said early indications are that the men had travelled from Papua to Papua New Guinea, before trying to make their way to Australia.

She says officials are exploring the option of returning the three to PNG.

The opposition Greens senator, Kerry Nettle, says the three men should be processed in the same way as anyone who seeks asylum in Australia.

She says this is a test case for the Howard government as any moves to take the asylum seekers to Nauru or other place of offshore detention will be seen in Australia as appeasing the Indonesian government.

Australia decided to change its refugee policy after the arrival in January of 43 people from Papua seeking asylum.