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Thursday, 23 May, 2002, 11:17 GMT 12:17 UK
Australia offers Afghans cash to leave
Australian asylum seekers held on Nauru
New arrivals will not be eligible
Afghan asylum seekers in Australia are to be offered A$2,000 (US$1,100) each to head home.

The Australian Government said the money would be paid as part of a package of measures to persuade people to leave now that Afghanistan's former ruling Taleban have been ousted from power.

More than 1,000 Afghans are immediately eligible for the payment, while 3,500 who have temporary refugee status will become eligible once that status lapses.

Police patrol Woomera during riots, December 2001
Australia's immigration policies are controversial
Philip Ruddock, Minister for Immigration, called the offer "a generous package" which was designed to give Afghans "real choices" about what to do back in Afghanistan.

It applies only to Afghans in detention in Australia who have been found not to be refugees, or who are still waiting for a decision on their applications for protection.

Upper limit

He said the payments were equivalent to five years' wages for the average Afghan.

In the cases of families who decide to go home, there will be an upper limit of A$10,000 (US$5,600) where the family includes husband, wife and dependent children.

The government said the cash would be paid alongside support services like counselling and providing help finding job training in Afghanistan, as well as a free flight to Kabul.

To be eligible for the package, Afghans must have arrived in Australia on or before 16 May 2002, the date an agreement was signed with the Afghan interim government.

Australia took about 10,000 asylum seekers from Afghanistan and the Middle East in the last few years, many of them being brought by people-smugglers from Indonesia.

Since last year, the government has refused to allow any more boats carrying asylum seekers to reach its shores, diverting them to Pacific neighbours.

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The BBC's Pam O'Toole
"It applies only to certain categories of Afghans"

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