Australia

Iraqi man charged over deaths of migrants heading for Australia

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Image caption The 43-year-old Iraqi man is the third to be charged for the incident, which took place in 2001

Police in Australia have charged an Iraqi man over a people-smuggling operation which caused the deaths of more than 350 people.

The group of asylum seekers drowned in 2001 after their boat sank during a journey from Indonesia to Australia.

Police say the 43-year-old was part of a syndicate which arranged their travel and accommodation for money.

He is the third person to be charged over the incident, which took place off the coast of Indonesia.

Police said he was taken into custody at Brisbane airport after his extradition from New Zealand, and faces 10 years in prison if found guilty. He will appear at a Brisbane court on 31 October.

Authorities did not name the man, but the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper has identified him as Maythem Radhi.

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Media captionShould migrants to Australia face an English test?

Mr Radhi has denied responsibility for the deaths, and has been fighting extradition attempts for a decade.

He was granted refugee status in 2009 and had been living in Auckland with his wife and children.

"Let's not lose sight of the fact that more than 350 people died in this tragedy," Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw said in a statement. "They are owed justice and we remain committed to deterring those who profit from this trade."

Australian police have continued to investigate the incident, which took place while the boat was heading to remote Christmas Island.

Iraqi national Khaleed Daoed was extradited to Australia from Sweden in 2003 and given a nine-year prison sentence for the operation.

Another key organiser, Egyptian trafficker Abu Quassey, was convicted in his home country in 2003 and given a seven-year sentence.

Thousands of asylum seekers try to reach Australia by sea every year, many paying huge sums of money to people-smugglers to transport them.

Indonesia is often used as a transit point as international borders in the region are hard to control.

The journey is fraught with danger and Australian authorities frequently conduct rescue operations to assist those trapped at sea.

But immigration continues to be a divisive issue in Australian politics. Australia has also been criticised for its policy of mandatory detention for those arriving without a valid visa.

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