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All ashore as refugees on dry land.

Tensions flared again yesterday between officials and mostly Iraqi asylum seekers when some refused to be unloaded from an Australian navy ship docked at the tiny Pacific island of Nauru.

Two boatloads of asylum seekers disembarked from the Australian troop carrier HMAS Manoora early yesterday, raising hopes for an end to the two-week standoff by 217 people who have refused to go ashore at Nauru so their applications for refugee status can be processed.

Iraqi and Palestinian asylum seekers aboard a third landing craft at Nauru's main harbour had refused to land for processing in a detention camp.

The stand-off lasted for more than two hours before negotiators convinced the group to move ashore onto buses bound for the camp.

Nauru - an island state of just 12,000 people living on a mere eight square miles - agreed to take the refugees after the Australian government refused them entry in a tough crackdown against people smuggling rings and asylum seekers.

However, most of the Iraqi and Palestinian asylum seekers had remained on the Manoora in protest against not being admitted to Australia, where they had been heading on a decrepit Indonesian boat operated by people smugglers, before the Australian navy picked them up.

Australia has been attractive to potential asylum seekers, perceived as a free and fair place to make a new start in life. Also, many refugees have been told by people smugglers that Australia accepts asylum seekers easily.

Leaders of the group that refused to be unloaded today had indicated their wish to talk to journalists, who were being kept behind the police exclusion zone at the landing point.

The standoff was closely monitored by Australian servicemen and protective services officers and Nauru officials, the ABC said.

The protesting group of asylum seekers join hundreds more boat people from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka at the makeshift refugee camp.

On Monday, Australian Defence Minister Peter Reith authorised the military to forcibly remove 12 men believed to be leaders of the refugees.

But the Nauru government yesterday refused to allow them ashore if they were being forced by Australian soldiers.

After a day of discussions, where Nauru continued to insist refugees should not be forced off the ship, further attempts at disembarkation continued.

'My advice is that the Nauruan government are happy with the agreement and further people are being taken off this morning,' Mr Reith said today.

He said the reason people were being escorted off by soldiers was only to ensure disembarkation went smoothly.

'That is simply to ensure there is no unnecessary disruption to the process and that people can be landed safely,' Mr Reith said.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Oct 4, 2001
Words:438
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