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Thursday, 6 December, 2001, 17:18 GMT
Australia's offshore camps are 'hellish'
Boat carrying Middle Eastern asylum seekers, just off Australia's Christmas Island
Australia's policy is to refuse entry to the boat people
Australia's policy of paying Pacific nations to take in unwanted boat people has been condemned as cruel and demeaning.

The camps are hellish, Dante-like

John Pace
A former top United Nations official, John Pace, said in a report put together for Amnesty International that asylum seekers sent to the tiny island of Nauru were showing signs of post-traumatic stress including nervousness and aggression.

Australia has taken an increasingly tough line on migrants trying to enter the country illegally and refuses to let them land.

Camp construction site, Nauru
Australia has built two camps on Nauru
It is paying Nauru $10m to house hundreds of asylum seekers in makeshift camps while their claims are processed.

"The camps are hellish, Dante-like," said Mr Pace after visiting Nauru, an island left barren following years of phosphate mining.

"It's a lunar landscape ... it's devastated," Mr Pace said.

Public support

But Australia's Immigration Minster Philip Ruddock told the BBC the policy was succeeding in fighting "insidious people trafficking.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard after his election victory
Mr Howard: Tough line won him the election
"If you look at what we were faced with ... the fact is that these numbers are down and they're down very significantly," he told the BBC's East Asia Today programme.

"We haven't had a boat arrival now for one month."

Australia has been widely condemned for its asylum policy. Last month the head of the United Nations refugee agency, Ruud Lubbers, said Australia had resorted to "the law of the jungle".

But the policy is hugely popular with the Australian public, which elected Prime Minister John Howard to a third term in office last month on the back of it.

Australia's line hardened in August when it refused entry to 433 mainly Afghan refugees who were picked up by a Norwegian freighter near Australia's Christmas Island.

There was an international stand-off which ended when New Zealand and Nauri agreed to take the boatpeople - the latter in return for payment. Since then, Australia also done a deal with Papua New Guinea.

More than 1,000 asylum seekers have been sent to camps since August - costing Australia more than $77m.

Another 540 are on Christmas Island after Fiji and Kiribati refused to take them.

In September Australia formally adopted the policy of turning away all boatloads of asylum seekers, unless the boat was in danger of sinking.

Australian Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock
"These numbers are down and they're down very significantly"
See also:

16 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
UN attacks Australia's asylum policy
14 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia 'not desperate' on asylum
13 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
Sinking island urged to accept migrants
15 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Nauru accepts 260 more migrants
10 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Papua accepts boat people
20 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Asylum seekers angry and fearful
03 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Nauru
31 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia's asylum policy
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