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Australia puts bounty on people smugglers

Government will pay rewards for information leading to conviction of people smugglers, after new resettling policy.

Last Modified: 22 Jul 2013 07:08
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About 125 asylum seekers were detained on the Pacific island nation of Nauru after riots [Reuters]

Australia has announced cash rewards for tip-offs on people smugglers, as it defended its controversial new policy of resettling asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea.

Australian Federal Police would pay rewards of up to US$180,000 for information leading to the conviction of people smugglers, Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said on Sunday.

"These people are peddling in misery and death. We need to shut this market down. That's why we are putting a bounty on their heads," Clare said.

"We have taken the product they are selling off the shelves, we also need to lock these people up."

'Policy effective'

Meanwhile, Immigration Minister Tony Burke said on Monday that Australia's new policy of resettling refugees in Papua New Guinea was already having a deterrent effect on boatpeople.

Speaking to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Burke said boats that arrived in Australian waters over the weekend had left prior to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's announcement of the new policy on Friday.

"We've seen the reports on the ground, both from people smugglers... we've heard reports from people who've been considering getting on boats," Burke said.

The immigration department said 81 Iranians who arrived over the weekend had been told they would not be resettled in Australia, and a number made clear they would not have made the trip if they had known of the new arrangement.

However, the new policy has not entirely stopped the boats arriving, and authorities were on Monday searching for a 12-metre Indonesian fishing vessel last seen from air near the Indian Ocean territory of Christmas Island.

The decision to send would-be refugees to Papua New Guinea, a developing country with law and order issues, comes after Canberra has already begun sending asylum seekers to the tiny island state of Nauru and Papua New Guinea for processing.

Nauru riots

The remote Pacific camps have been criticised by refugee advocates and riots at the Nauru camp by dozens of asylum seekers on Friday - reportedly over delays in the processing of refugee claims - saw buildings destroyed by fire.

About 125 asylum seekers were in police custody after the unrest, an official said on Sunday.

The fire on Friday evening destroyed all the accommodation blocks, medical facilities and offices and caused an estimated $55m damage, an Immigration Department spokeswoman said under the department's usual condition of anonymity. Only the dining and recreation buildings survived the blaze.

More than 15,600 asylum seekers have arrived by sea to Australia this year, straining immigration facilities and border protection authorities who are often called in to assist them.

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