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Girl, 9, begs for asylum as hundreds held in Indonesia: report

SYDNEY, Oct 15 (AFP) - A nine-year-old girl made a heart-rending plea for asylum after a wooden refugee boat carrying hundreds of Sri Lankan refugees to Australia was detained in Indonesia, reports said here on Thursday.

The little girl, named only as Brindah, choked back tears as she begged foreign governments to open their doors to some 255 ethnic Tamils fleeing Sri Lanka's war-torn north, TV footage showed.

"Please help us and save our lives, we are your children. Please think of us, please, please," said the girl, in pictures broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation from the West Java port of Banten.

"Please sir, please take us to a country. It's OK if it is not Australia. It's better if any other country takes us, we can't live in Sri Lanka."

The report showed the asylum-seekers packed tightly inside the boat, which was stopped on Sunday after a direct tip-off from Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to Indonesia's Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The group's unofficial spokesman, who gives his name as Alex, stepped back from earlier threats to set fire to the boat by exploding gas canisters in a desperate bid to avoid detention.

But he said the asylum-seekers were in danger in Sri Lanka in the wake of the government's defeat of Tamil Tiger rebels, who ran parts of the country's north.

"We don't want to be stuck in a situation like that," he said. "We are staying on this boat until the international community comes together and makes a decision on finding a way to get us out of this country."

The well-publicised stand-off has reignited Australia's immigration debate and highlighted severe pressure on its detention facilities after a sudden influx of asylum-seekers this year.

Immigration officials have already been forced to boost capacity at Christmas Island, the main centre, to 1,400 by installing 280 temporary beds in a recreation room.

Reports on Thursday said portable buildings from former South Australian detention centres were on their way to Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean between Australia and Indonesia, to create more space.

About 1,650 asylum-seekers have arrived in Australia since January and 1,016 plus 19 crew are being held at Christmas Island for processing, officials told AFP.

Rudd faces frequent opposition attacks for easing the tough immigration policies of his predecessor, John Howard. The prime minister blames economic hardship and wars in Sri Lanka, Iraq and Afghanistan for creating refugees. (AFP)

MySinchew 2009.10.15

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