Canada today sharply increased its immigration quotas for Southeast Asian refugees and will permit 50,000 "boat people" to settle here during the next 18 months.

The government said it would begin on Aug. 1 to airlift refugees from several temporary camps in Thailand and Malaysia and fly them to staging areas here in Edmonton and in Montreal.

Canada's decision to triple its immigration quotas followed increasing public pressure generated by reports about the plight of Southeast Asian refugees. The city of Ottawa recently took a unilateral decision to accept 4,000 refugees before the end of this year.

The pressure was also reflected in the Canadian news media, which Tuesday reminded the public that before World War I a boatload of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany sailed from port to port looking for a place to land and that Canada was one of the governments that turned the group away.

Since the war, Canada has accepted a considerable number of refugees, mainly from Eastern Europe. Canada admitted a large number of displaced persons following the 1956 Hungarian uprising as well as the Indian immigrants who were expelled from Uganda by dictator Idi Amin in the early 1970s.

Today's decision was announced jointly by External Affairs Minister Flora MacDonald and Immigration Minister Ronald Atkey in Ottawa after some internal government debate caused by concern about recent racial incidents in Toronto and Vancouver involving Indians, whites and Pakistani immigrants.

The government will match on a one-to-one basis each privately sponsored Southeast Asian refugee and will assist private groups interested in sponsoring them.

The Canadian flights will bring refugees from Singapore, Hong Kong and the Philippines as well as from Thailand and Malaysia.