Australia rejects bill to deport asylum seekers

Associated Press Modified: June 28, 2012 at 8:45 am •  Published: June 28, 2012

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australian senators on Thursday rejected laws that would have let Australia deport asylum seekers to another country as a way of discouraging them from attempting the long, dangerous boat journeys.

The legislation had scraped through the House of Representatives 74-72 late Wednesday after six hours of passionate debate, amplified by two deadly capsizings of boats filled with Australia-bound migrants in the past week. But the Senate rejected the bill 39 votes to 29 after sometimes tearful arguments.

Four people are believed to have died and 130 were rescued from a boat that capsized Wednesday, but more than 90 people are believed to have died in a capsizing last week midway between Australia's Christmas Island and Indonesia.

The legislation would have let the government deport boat arrivals to another country in Southeast Asia or the Pacific. While many lawmakers see that as the best option for stopping such smuggling attempts, they disagree on where the asylum seekers should be sent.

Currently, they stay on Christmas Island while their asylum claims are assessed, although many have been transferred to the Australian mainland in recent months because of overcrowding at the island detention facilities. The survivors of the two most recent boat capsizings are having their claims assessed there.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard had urged senators to pass the legislation before Parliament takes a six-week break. After the vote failed, Gillard accused opposition leader Tony Abbott of making no effort to compromise.

"Mr. Abbott did not move one millimeter at any stage of this ... while people are drowning at sea," she told reporters.

Abbott, however, accused Gillard of displaying "pride and stubbornness."

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