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Saturday, 1 September, 2001, 13:44 GMT 14:44 UK
Breakthrough over Afghan refugees
Tampa off Christmas Island
Now the refugees have to get off the Tampa
Australian Prime Minister John Howard has announced a deal which will allow more than 400 Afghan refugees stranded on a Norwegian ship to land and apply for asylum.

This does not involve the people being taken onto Christmas Island or any other Australian territory

John Howard
Under the deal, the people will be taken to New Zealand and the Pacific Island state of Nauru, where their application claims will be processed.

Australia will meet the costs of the operation, and has agreed to take some of the refugees, if their claims are judged genuine.

But, as the BBC's Red Harrison reports from Sydney, the issue has been complicated by a Melbourne court injunction which prevents the government from moving the boat people out of Australian waters.

Court challenge

Lawyers representing a civil liberties group in the city sought the ban to allow the refugees to be brought ashore in Australia for assessment of their asylum claims.

The lawyers for the Victorian Council for Civil Liberties told the court that, because the freighter was moored in Australian territorial waters, the people aboard were entitled to legal representation.

The Council will press to have the injunction extended because no legal representatives have been able to speak with the refugees to find out what they want.

Officers of the special air service, who have been aboard the ship since Wednesday, will be asked to give evidence to the court by telephone on Sunday about whether the boat people are being held against their will.

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Lawyers for the government say the Council's demands are unreasonable.

The case is expected to continue into Monday.

Australian PM John Howard
Howard: Public opinion behind him

UN approval

The United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, says he approves of the Australian government's plan to process their applications in New Zealand and Nauru.

Speaking at the UN racism conference in Durban, Mr Annan said he wanted to see the plan implemented speedily.

Mr Howard's government has been firmly opposed to allowing them to land and apply for asylum in Australia and it is largely backed by public opinion.

Under the new plan, the 460 asylum seekers on board the MV Tampa will be split into two groups.

Women, children and families - a group numbering about 150 - will be taken to New Zealand, where their asylum claims will be assessed.

If successful, the applicants will be allowed to stay there as part of the country's annual refugee quota.

The Norwegian ambassador escorted by Australian police
Norway's ambassador has been critical of Australia's stance
A second, larger group of refugees will be processed in Nauru.

The successful claimants will be allowed to apply to settle in other countries, including Australia.

Ship unfit for voyage

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said her country would be working closely with Australia and the UN High Commission for Refugees to arrange transhipment of the refugees to New Zealand.

But she argued that the issue was one for the "whole international community".

Prime Minister Clark also said that Australia would arrange for the refugees to be taken off the Tampa and flown by plane to New Zealand.

Norway's ambassador to Australia says the Tampa is not fit to make the journey to New Zealand with the refugees on deck.

"The ship cannot go to sea with as many passengers as they have today," Ove Thorsheim told the BBC.

The Australian authorities are looking for another ship to transport the refugees.

UN pressure

The breakthrough comes after intense pressure from the United Nations refugee agency, which convened a conference on Friday to try and find a resolution.

The Tampa picked up its human cargo almost a week ago at the request of the Australian coastguard after the vessel in which the refugees had set sail from Indonesia began to sink.

But the Australian authorities then refused the ship permission to dock, and sent troops to block its passage when the captain moved it into Australian territorial waters.

Ambassador Thorsheim, who visited the ship on Friday, welcomed the agreement.

"We are very glad that they have found a solution now and that the refugees can be taken care of," he said.

Return to text

The BBC's Kim Barnes
"Those aboard the Tampa could soon be heading for dry land"
Philip Ruddock, Australian immigration minister
"We've announced the arrangements we intend to put in place"
Hans Christian Bangsmoen, Wilhelm Wilhemson Shipping
"The vessel is not sea-worthy"

Key stories



See also:

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31 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
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31 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
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