Australia will move almost all asylum seekers from its offshore processing center on the island of Nauru. It was established as part of Canberra's so-called Pacific Solution, where boat people who were illegally trying to enter Australia were locked away in remote camps.

During the past four years, more than 1,200 detainees, mostly Iraqis and Afghans, have been held on the tiny island of Nauru.

Just 27 remain. On Friday, Australian officials said 13 will soon fly to freedom in Australia after the option of having it if the need should arise in the future," Prime Minister Howard said. "I hope it doesn't. This government has stopped illegal immigration and our measures have included the Pacific Solution and without it and without the other measures we'd still have a problem. It's been an outstanding success."

The camp on Nauru was established after border security was tightened four years ago. At the time, Australia was worried about the number of boat people heading for its shores from Indonesia.

Under the program, Canberra built immigration centers on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, which closed down last year, and on Nauru.

The thinking was that the prospect of being shipped to an isolated corner of the South Pacific would be a powerful deterrent to asylum seekers.

Australia paid the governments of Nauru and Papua New Guinea millions of dollars to keep the camps running.

Critics have said the mental health of those kept in the offshore camps was harmed by their incarceration.

Refugee rights activists responded with delight at news that most of the boat people on Nauru will be allowed to leave.

The United Nations' refugee agency welcomed the decision to remove most of the remaining asylum seekers from Nauru. It had previously complained about harsh conditions for detainees on the tropical island.

Australia admits more than 10,000 legal refugees a year, but has a policy of detaining most who enter illegally in camps while their asylum applications are processed.