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Australia Begins to Scrap Controversial Refugee Policy

Australia's new government has taken its first step to end a policy of sending asylum seekers to detention centers on Pacific island nations for processing.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans said Monday that seven Burmese men will be granted refugee status and allowed to settle in Brisbane. Evans said he is hopeful the men can be returned to Australia in the next week or two.

The men have been held in a detention center on the Pacific island nation of Nauru for more than a year.

Evans said the government hopes to quickly resolve the asylum claims of 80 Sri Lankans who are being held in the same facility.

The Refugee and Immigration Legal Center, which had been representing the Burmese refugees, welcomed today's announcement. Spokesman David Manne said the men were extremely relieved and looking forward to rebuilding their lives.

The move is the new Australian government's second major policy shift since Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was sworn in last week. Mr. Rudd had pledged during the elections to end his predecessor John Howard's policy of using remote islands for detention - known as the "Pacific Solution."

Evans said the government will continue to use a detention facility on Australia's Christmas Island.

A week ago, Mr. Rudd's government ratified the Kyoto Protocol - leaving the United States as the only major industrialized nation not to have adopted the climate treaty.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.