Asylum seekers seek refuge in Australia

Last updated 20:17 15/07/2013

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An asylum seeker boat that was spotted sailing close to the West Australian coast had mainly Vietnamese people on board, Australia's Department of Immigration confirmed.

The boat, carrying 84 people, was detected by a Customs and Border Protection surveillance aircraft then intercepted by HMAS Maitland some 50 kilometres north-west of  Broome around yesterday afternoon (local time).

The boat was towed to the Kimberley pearling and tourist town, while the passengers were sent to the Curtin Detention Centre for initial security, health and identity checks.

Their reasons for travel will also be established, a Customs official said. The group is understood to be a mix of single men and families.

The isolated Curtin Detention Centre was opened in 1999 by the Howard government, which closed it three years later following  incidents of self-harm, riots and a mass escape. It was re-opened for single men in 2010 but family groups began arriving in May.

The number of Vietnamese asylum seekers arriving on Australian shores has spiked in the past year. The increase has been largely blamed on religious persecution. Government critics, including bloggers, are also treated harshly in the one-party Communist state.

It's the second time in recent months that an asylum seeker vessel has come so close to the WA mainland. In April, a rickety vessel carrying 60 people managed to sail into Geraldton port, gobsmacking onlookers.

On Sunday, three separate boats were spotted close to Christmas and Ashmore islands, carrying more than 330 people.

Australian authorities are in the process of arranging the burial of a baby boy who drowned in waters off Christmas Island on Friday, with eight more people on the boat missing, presumed dead.   

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- AAP

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