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Afghani Asylum Seekers Land in New Zealand - 2001-09-27

In New Zealand, the first group of Afghani asylum seekers has arrived, after being turned away by Australia last month and sparking an international debate on their fate. They will have their immigration applications processed before being resettled.

About 70 Afghani asylum seekers landed in New Zealand after weeks of being aboard an Australian navy ship.

The New Zealand government agreed to take 150 asylum seekers, all family groups, from the 433 people rescued in August during an unauthorized voyage from Indonesia to Australia.

New Zealand made the offer after Australia refused them entry and kept them stranded off its coast for more than a week.

After arriving in Auckland late Wednesday the first group was interviewed for several hours by police, immigration authorities and agriculture officials. After their initial interviews, the asylum seekers were then taken to a closely guarded detention center near Auckland.

Jenny Broom is with a refugee coordination center in Auckland. She spoke with New Zealand Radio. "Well, they've gone straight to the resettlement center and they are working immediately with the refugee status branch because that is the first concern and for their health and mental health needs," Ms. Broom said.

Immigration authorities say it could take six weeks to process their refugee claims.

New Zealand has agreed to offer permanent settlement to those asylum seekers who qualify as genuine refugees.

Meanwhile, some of the other 433 asylum seekers disembarked in Nauru, where they will stay in temporary lodging for up to six months while their immigration claims are decided. But more than 200 of them are refusing to leave the Australian navy ship in protest against Canberra's decision to refuse them entry to Australia.

Several countries, including Australia, have offered to resettle the asylum seekers from Nauru if and when they are found to be genuine refugees.