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Wednesday, 10 April, 2002, 07:35 GMT 08:35 UK
Protests at Australian detention camp
Detention centre in Nauru
The Pacific camps have been described as "hellish"
About 250 Afghan asylum seekers broke out of an Australian detention centre on the Pacific island of Nauru and pelted police with rocks, officials said on Wednesday.

The detainees' walk-out, on Tuesday, was sparked by news the day before that only seven of 292 Afghans being held at the camp have been granted refugee status by the United Nations refugee agency.

Detainee climbs through a breach in the fence at the Woomera detention centre in South Australia, 29 March 2002
Activists helped detainees escape from Woomera last month
Nauru, the world's smallest republic - halfway between Australia and Hawaii - agreed along with Papua New Guinea to take boat people seeking refuge, in exchange for substantial Australian aid.

Australia itself has been wracked by asylum seeker protests in recent months.

About 10 asylum seekers are still missing following a break-out from the remote Woomera camp in the southern Australian desert nearly two weeks ago.

And in January, detainees at the camp staged a hunger strike which subsequently spread to other camps.

Taleban factor

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the 285 Afghans who were rejected had been denied asylum because their claims were based on persecution by Afghanistan's Taleban regime, which has since been overthrown.

But it said they would get another chance to present their claims.

The detainees walked out of the Nauru camp on Tuesday morning, to be confronted by local police and Australian security officers who tried to persuade them to return, officials said.

"During those negotiations the asylum seekers threw rocks at police," an immigration spokeswoman said.

She said one asylum seeker and some police and security officers sustained minor cuts and bruises.

All were returned to their accommodation just over an hour later, she said.

Of the 1,118 detainees on Nauru, 529 have had their claims processed so far.

Australia's Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, will visit Scandinavia and Ireland next week in a hunt for homes for the detainees who have been granted refugee status.

He has also said that he is considering visiting Afghanistan to witness the conditions there for himself.

See also:

08 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
UN rules on Nauru boat people
03 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Australia hunts for fugitive migrants
02 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Australian break-out refugees in court
31 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
Activists outwit Australia's asylum policy
23 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Australia stands by asylum policy
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