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Rising tide of asylum-seekers: Will Australia let them in?

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The twin standoffs come amid a sudden increase in the number of asylum-seekers heading to Australia, often in rickety boats after having paid unscrupulous "people-smugglers." And they are proving a serious test for Rudd's government, which is facing criticism across the political spectrum for either opening the door to human smuggling or shirking responsibility on a humanitarian issue.

'Indonesian solution' on 'boat people'

The Rudd government sees Indonesia, the main transit point for the voyage to Australia, as the key to tackling the problem. Last week, the sprawling archipelago to Australia's north agreed to play a bigger part in intercepting and accommodating "boat people" in exchange for fina0ncial assistance reported to amount to tens of millions of dollars.

The Australian media is calling it the "Indonesian Solution": a reference to the so-called "Pacific Solution," which Howard thought up to resolve the Tampa crisis. The Tampa's mainly Afghan passengers, along with successive boatloads of would-be migrants, were shipped to the impoverished Pacific nations of Papua New Guinea and Nauru, where they were processed by United Nations refugee officials, without access to the Australian legal system.

One of Rudd's first acts after being elected two years ago was to scrap the widely reviled "Pacific Solution," together with certain other hard-line policies, including "temporary protection visas," which entitled refugees to remain in Australia for only three years.

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