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Monday, 3 September, 2001, 12:37 GMT 13:37 UK
Pacific states step into the breach
The decision of New Zealand and the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru to take the 460 Afghan refugees from the Norwegian freighter, the MV Tampa, provides a diplomatic solution to the stand-off.

But the involvement of Nauru is surprising.

With a population of about 11,000 living on an island of just 21 square kilometres, the arrival of the remaining 310 asylum seekers will be the equivalent of about a million refugees flying into Australia.

Lying almost on the equator, Nauru is north of Fiji and east of the Solomon Islands.

But it is far from being a tropical paradise.

In 1899 a British prospecting company discovered that Nauru was nearly solid phosphate.

Since then, phosphate mining has devastated the environment.

Nauru's 'topside' is a barren landscape of gouged earth inhabited by packs of wild dogs.

Mining made the islanders the richest people in the Pacific. Homes contain all the mod-cons, from cars to televisions and satellite dishes.

But its phosphate is now all but exhausted.

Historically, Nauru's resources made it a coveted political prize.

The island was invaded by Germany in 1888, then wrested away by Australia at the beginning of World War I. Japan conquered it in 1942 and Australia retrieved it after the war ended.

Nauru earned full independence in 1968, when it was accorded special member status of the Commonwealth.

English is the official language, but Nauruan, which contains elements of Melanesian, Polynesian and Micronesian, is also spoken.


Guide books describe locals as being more or less indifferent to outsiders.

They are said to have developed no culture to deal with travellers.

It is now notorious as a money laundering centre for the Russian mafia.

The island is not self-sufficient. Nauru depends on imports for its food and water.

There is little spare accommodation and no natural port where ships can dock.

For the refugees, life on Nauru is likely to be far from pleasant.

New Zealand's offered to help solve the crisis over the refugees stranded on the Tampa is less surprising.

With its 3.8 million people and 269,000 square kilometres, it already has an established refugee programme.

New Zealand's Prime Minister, Helen Clark, says she wants to offer both humanitarian assistance and support Australian efforts to stem the flow of illegal immigration.

New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clark
explains why New Zealand has offered to take the refugees
See also:

30 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia seeks help over boat people
03 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Nauru
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