11 Apr 2012

Chinese asylum-seekers to stay put in Australia

6:47 pm on 11 April 2012

Chinese asylum-seekers who had intended to travel to New Zealand have decided to stay in Australia.

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English said on Wednesday that Australian authorities have advised the New Zealand Government of the group's plans.

The 10 people, aged six to 60, were escorted to Darwin last Thursday following a month-long boat journey from Malaysia after their boat encountered mechanical problems.

Members of the group are part of the spiritual movement Falun Gong, which is banned in China, and they said they left because they had been persecuted.

The group had intended to sail from northern Australia to New Zealand - a dangerous 5000km journey. Most were given temporary visas by the Australian government so they could stock up for the crossing.

Australian Immigration Minister Chris Bowen confirmed their decision to stay after talks with immigration officials lasting seven hours on Wednesday.

Bill English said he has been advised that the group is in the process of seeking asylum and New Zealand would not have any further involvement.

"But we would want to take this chance to thank the Australians for their close cooperation over this issue. It's been a tricky one, but the Australians have dealt with it in a cooperative way."

The ABC's Iskhander Razak told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme on Wednesday that officials managed to convince the group of the risks of travelling to New Zealand.

"I think they've been convinced that it would be utterly disastrous to go out to sea again ... and it's better, safer to apply for asylum in Australia."

The decision means the group will now go into a detention centre. It is not yet known where they will be taken.

Earlier, the Australian government was criticised for doing nothing to stop the group from travelling on. However, it said there was nothing it could do as the group's vessel, described as a sturdy, traditional Malaysian fishing boat, is seaworthy.