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Nauru Accuses Australia of Reneging on Asylum Promises - 2002-06-10


The tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru says its decision to temporarily host asylum seekers from Australia has turned into a nightmare. Nauru has accused Australia of reneging on promises.

Last year under Australia's so-called Pacific Solution, Nauru and Papua New Guinea agreed to accept more than 1,000 asylum seekers, mostly from Iraq and Afghanistan, on behalf of Australia.

In return, Australia promised $17 million worth of aid and to finish processing the asylum claims by May 30.

But Nauru's President Rene Harris said the deadline has passed and yet hundreds of asylum seekers remain on the island and his country has yet to see the bulk of promised money. He spoke to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "All in all there's a … goods and services agreement [that has] been made, and up till now we've come to the end of the understanding period, that six months. I don't think we've got even half that amount of what's been promised," he said.

But Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the criticism is unfair. "We're on schedule. I don't think there's been any delay in the expenditure of the moneys we've been committed to," he said. "Look, this goes to there being some additional requests that have been made, that we've been processing those." Mr. Downer said the remaining asylum seekers on Nauru will be processed as soon as possible.

The tensions between the two countries come amid reports of a fresh wave of illegal immigrants heading to Australia. Customs authorities believe that at least one boat could be bound for Australia, while others may still be preparing to set off from Indonesia.

Last week Australia excluded more islands along its northern coastline from its migration zone, meaning boat people arriving on these islands can no longer apply for asylum.

This is part of a massive effort to discourage people from pay smugglers and making dangerous sea-crossings to enter Australia illegally and then apply for visas. Some 5,000 asylum seekers have been entering Australia each year this way. The government has argued it is not fair to the thousands of others who apply to live in Australia legally.

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