THE Rudd government last night moved to overturn John Howard's controversial policy of processing all asylum-seekers off-shore, allowing a group of detained Afghan youths to leave Christmas Island and arrive on mainland Australia without visas.
In an unprecedented move that coincided with the arrival of yet another boat of asylum-seekers at the Indian Ocean territory last night, the 10 boys boarded a chartered Qantas jet carrying 56 newly recognised Afghan refugees from the island to Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne.
The move, confirmed by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship last night, was welcomed by the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre as a "substantial departure from the previous policy of condemning everyone including children to detention on Christmas Island".
The flight departed Christmas Island, which was excised from Australia's migration zone in 2003 by the Howard government, just hours before a further 52 asylum-seekers and three crew landed on the island after being intercepted by HMAS Ararat near Ashmore Reef on Saturday.
There are now 665 people in immigration detention on Christmas Island; 571 of them are single men being kept at the Howard government's $400 million immigration detention centre on the island's northwest point; 62 are living in a converted construction workers' compound; and 32 are in houses on the island in what is termed "community detention".
Source: The Australian