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Australia refugee interceptions rising

May 6, 2009 at 1:27 PM

CANBERRA, Australia, May 6 (UPI) -- The number of seaborne refugees intercepted heading toward Australia has reached the highest level since 2002, officials say.

An interception of 50 refugees Tuesday northwest of Broome was the 18th boat to be detained since September, The Australian reported.

In 2002, former Prime Minister John Howard implemented the Pacific Solution, which sent intercepted asylum-seekers to islands off the mainland and repatriated them to other countries. Current Prime Minister Kevin Rudd scrapped the system in 2007.

The government has become alarmed because the frequency of interceptions appears to be increasing, with eight boats detected in the past month. An unnamed government source told the newspaper things will only get more active, saying, "It will be at least as busy or busier than it has been," citing favorable sea conditions, easy access to boats and the many refugees displaced by Middle Eastern violence.

After slowing to a trickle during the Pacific Solution years, interceptions are now on a pace to rival the 1,212 boats intercepted in 2001-02, The Australian said.

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