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Thursday, 20 September, 2001, 12:54 GMT 13:54 UK
Asylum seekers angry and fearful
Afghan refugees welcomed by dancing girl
Refugees are relieved to be ashore
Afghan asylum seekers on the Pacific island of Nauru have been speaking of their anger at their treatment by the Australian Government and their fears of being forced to return home.

The refugees are among a group of 433 who were refused entry to Australia earlier this month and then transported thousands of miles on board the troopship HMAS Manoora.

HMAS Manoora
HMAS Manoora - like a prison
They described conditions on board the ship as like a prison. But they said it was better than being in Afghanistan or Iraq where they feared they would be killed if sent back.

Their case is expected to go to Australia's High Court next week after a Melbourne-based lawyer said he would challenge an appeal court ruling this week which backed the government's claims that it had the right to prevent illegal immigrants from entering Australia.

A group of 119 Afghans and Sri Lankans left the troopship on Thursday to join about 80 others in a temporary camp in the centre of Nauru.

A separate group of 230, mainly Iraqi refugees, rescued from a sinking boat, have been refusing to leave the Manoora. They are demanding to be taken to Australia.

Mosquitoes and heat

The Afghans say conditions on land are better than the troopship where they were confined in tiny overcrowded spaces. But they say the camp is hot, infested with mosquitoes and is not a place anyone can expect to live in for more than a few weeks.

Putting up fence surrounding camp
The refugee camp has been built in the centre of the tiny island
Some of them played football and volleyball, others gathered by the wire fence surrounding the camp.

One said they had left Afghanistan because they were being persecuted by the Taleban: "They are killing our people... because of religion," he said.

The refugees said they were compelled to seek illegal entry to Australia because they had no legal means of seeking asylum there.

Another said: "We are so unhappy about the Australian decision. It was not according to the book of human rights."

The refugees had no idea about the possibility of US military action against Afghanistan and the Taleban or of the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon because during their time on the Manoora, they had no access to news or communication with the outside world

Nauru's payoff

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

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.

It is not clear what will happen to the refugees afterwards, whether they are rejected or accepted.

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.

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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