Australia To Start Removing Last Detainees From Nauru

Australia To Start Removing Last Detainees From Nauru

Published: January 11, 2008 4:17 AM

SYDNEY (AFP)–Australia will next week fly 21 Sri Lankan refugees from its much-criticized detention center on the Pacific island nation of Nauru as it works toward closing the facility, a minister said Friday.

The Labor government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is fulfilling a pledge made ahead of November's election to close the center for illegal asylum seekers landing on Australian shores.

However, Nauru's government has protested that a shutdown will slash the poverty-stricken country's gross domestic product by 20%.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans said the 21 were among a group of 75 Sri Lankans who would be resettled in Australian cities over the coming weeks after being accepted as refugees.

Only seven Sri Lankans, whose future has yet to be determined, will remain at the center. One has been refused refugee status, while the others are facing criminal charges in Nauru.

Evans said the government would soon invite Nauru to formal talks on the center's closure, promising to “carefully consider the likely impact” and promising a “generous aid and capacity development program” for the country.

The closure will signal the end of the controversial “Pacific solution” for illegal asylum seekers of former premier John Howard, but Evans said the Rudd administration remained committed to a tough line on asylum-seekers.

A new facility on Australia's own Indian Ocean possession of Christmas Island, just south of Indonesia's main island of Java, will soon be able to process larger numbers of arrivals.

Nauru's economy has been teetering on the edge of collapse for years due to the near-exhaustion of phosphate reserves, its prime source of revenue, but was bolstered in 2001 when it signed the deal to open the center.