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Wednesday, 19 September, 2001, 07:29 GMT 08:29 UK
First asylum seekers land on Nauru
HMAS Manoora off Nauru
Refugees reported poor conditions on HMAS Manoora
The first group of Afghan asylum seekers refused entry into Australia has landed on the tiny Pacific island of Nauru after almost one month at sea.

About 80 men were off-loaded from the Australian troopship the HMAS Manoora and transported to Nauru's port, where the islanders gave them a traditional welcome.

Thanks to the honourable government of Nauru for giving protection and shelter for the Afghan refugees

Afghan refugee banner
The refugees lined up on the quayside looking dishevelled and gaunt, before boarding buses taking them to a makeshift camp in the island's barren centre.

Australia agreed earlier this month to pay Nauru about $10m, to house more than 500 asylum seekers picked up trying to enter Australia illegally, while their claims are processed by officials from the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).

Camp construction site
Australian troops have been building a temporary camp for the refugees
About 150 remaining refugees on board the Manoora will be flown to New Zealand for processing.

A UNHCR spokeswoman said it would take several weeks to consider all the asylum applications.

Refugees who have their applications rejected could be deported by Nauru.

Glad to be ashore

The men were transferred from the troop-ship Manoora onto a landing craft. They stood wearing orange life-jackets while the ship transported them to the harbour.

A banner read: "Thanks to the honourable government of Nauru for giving protection and shelter for the Afghan refugees."

Asylum seekers on board the Tampa
Afghan migrants were picked up by the Norwegian cargo ship, Tampa
Nauruan women with flower garlands in their hair danced as they sang a traditional Nauruan welcome. They gave each of the refugees a small bunch of flowers to hold.

Standing on the quayside, the Afghans shouted that conditions on board the ship had been bad and they were glad to be off.

There are two groups of asylum seekers:

  • 433 mainly Afghan refugees, originally rescued late last month from a sinking Indonesian ferry by the Norwegian vessel, the MV Tampa,

  • another 230, mainly Iraqi refugees, picked up nearly two weeks later.

The UNHCR said at this stage it is only concerned with the applications of the refugees transferred from the Tampa to the Manoora.

An Australian court ruled on Monday the government had treated the Afghan refugees properly in turning them away and sending them to Nauru.

One Afghan refugee said the group was grateful to Nauru even though they wanted to go to Australia.

"Unfortunately Australia has closed the door for us," he said.

The Iraqi refugees have been refusing to leave the Manoora, demanding instead to be taken to Australia.

The BBC's Damian Grammaticas on Nauru
"For the Afghans, one ordeal is over, another is just beginning"
See also:

15 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
New setback for Afghan boat people
10 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Nauru accepts 200 more migrants
09 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia talks tough on migrants
04 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia voters back PM over refugees
03 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia ships out Afghan refugees
01 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Pacific states step into the breach
03 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Timeline: Nauru
03 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Nauru
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