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Tuesday, 13 November, 2001, 11:11 GMT
Sinking island urged to accept migrants
Graphic BBC
Four months after Australia refused to take in migrants from the tiny, sinking Pacific nation of Tuvalu, Canberra has asked Tuvalu to take in Middle East asylum seekers.

A Tuvalu government official told the French news agency AFP it had received a verbal request from Australia.

Australia has turned away about 1,500 asylum seekers since August, sending many to small Pacific nations to have their claims processed.

We ask them for space and now they're sending us their own people

Tuvalu government spokesman Panapa Nelesone
With a total land area of 26 square kilometres and a population of 11,000 people, Tuvalu is one-tenth the size of Washington DC, and spread over nine atolls.

It works out at 403 people per square kilometre compared to 2.4 people to every square kilometre in Australia.

Earlier this year Tuvalu, worried about rising sea levels which it blames on climate change, appealed to New Zealand and Australia to take in some of its islanders.

New Zealand agreed to help, but in July Australian Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock refused.

"They have to meet the normal migration criteria that apply to anybody in the world who wants to come to Australia," he said.

Sent away

The Australian Government, re-elected to a third term in office on Sunday after an election campaign dominated by immigration, has taken an increasingly tough line since it refused to take a boatload of asylum seekers rescued by Norwegian freighter the Tampa in August.

An asylum-seeker refused entry to Australia
Most asylum-seekers have come via Indonesia
Australia sent the Tampa migrants to the island nation of Nauru and some to New Zealand. Papua New Guinea is also taking asylum seekers, while Palau and Fiji are considering requests to temporarily house boatpeople.

Tuvalu Government spokesman Panapa Nelesone told AFP that Tuvalu would wait for a written request from Australia before responding.

"When we receive it we will look at it and respond to it," he said from the capital, Funafuti.

But he said Tuvalu had a problem with lack of space.

"We ask them for space and now they're sending us their own people," he said.

  • On Tuesday the Australian Navy took more than 300 Vietnamese and Middle Eastern asylum seekers to the Australia territory of Christmas Island.

    They were taken from three boats near Ashmore Reef off the north-west coast of Australia last week. Two women had died trying to escape a fire on one of the boats.

    Claims for asylum made on remote territories such as Christmas Island and Ashmore Reef no longer have any legal validity under Australian law.

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    See also:

    09 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
    Asylum seekers 'torch ship'
    08 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
    Australia shows refugee video
    10 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
    Papua accepts boat people
    09 Oct 01 | Sci/Tech
    Pacific islanders flee rising seas
    27 Jul 01 | Country profiles
    Country profile: Tuvalu
    18 Feb 00 | Asia-Pacific
    High tides threaten Tuvalu
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