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Australia aims to deport immigrants

Australia plans to deport would-be asylum seekers to detention camps in the poorer countries of Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

It is a change of policy for the ruling Labour party in the face of waves of would-be immigrants reaching the country in rickety boats. It previously argued against the concept of Australian-funded detention camps in other nations as a waste of money that would fail to deter new arrivals.

But prime minister Julia Gillard said her government has accepted the recommendation of an expert panel to reopen camps established a decade ago by a conservative administration, and that laws to enable the deportation of asylum seekers will be introduced to parliament.

The decision was a spectacular back down in the divisive political debate about how to stop the growing number of asylum seekers.

"When our nation looks at what is happening at sea as people attempt dangerous journeys to Australia, too many lives have been lost and I'm not going to play politics or look at political scoreboards when too many lives have been lost," Ms Gillard said after the cabinet gave its support in principle for all the recommendations in the expert panel's report.

The report aims to curb boat arrivals by removing any advantages that asylum seekers might gain in their refugee claims by reaching Australia. It was drawn up by a panel headed by former Australian Defence Force Chief Angus Houston and combines policy proposals by the major political parties, who have been bitterly divided on the issue.

Human rights group Amnesty International described the recommendations as a major setback for Australian refugee policy.

Ms Gillard commissioned the report six weeks ago after two people-smuggling boats capsized between Indonesia and Australia within a week, with more than 90 asylum seekers believed to have drowned. She said she hoped the report's findings would break the political deadlock on the issue.

More than 7,000 asylum seekers - many from war-torn countries including Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka - have reached the Australian Indian Ocean territory of Christmas Island in more than 100 boats so far this year.

Many Australians resent the growing numbers of asylum seekers arriving and the issue has emerged as a major threat to the survival of Ms Gillard's government in elections due in late 2013. The growing death toll from the dangerous voyages has heightened the political imperative to stop the traffic.

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