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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 December, 2003, 09:07 GMT
UN to review Nauru asylum rulings
Unidentified asylum seeker on Nauru
Some protesters have stitched their lips together
The United Nations is to reassess the cases of Afghan asylum seekers in an Australian offshore camp because of Afghanistan's deteriorating security.

The UN's refugee body, UNHCR, said it would review 22 asylum requests it had previously rejected.

It asked the Australian Government to do likewise for about 180 other Afghan detainees being held at the camp, which is based on the island of Nauru.

A hunger strike at the camp has now spread to involve about 40 detainees.

Doctors on Nauru have said that the strike, which began two weeks ago when some protesters sewed up their lips, is stretching medical services on the island to the limit, and senior staff have expressed fears that detainees could die if a solution is not found soon.

The detainees themselves have insisted they will face persecution if they go home.

But spokeswoman for UNHCR Australia, Ellen Hansen, told BBC News Online that the decision to reassess claims on Nauru was not as a result of the hunger strike.

"We started reviewing the situation a couple of months ago," she said, adding that the UN found "there's been a steadily deteriorating security situation" in Afghanistan.

In fact, she said, the majority of the hunger strikers on Nauru had their claims assessed and rejected by the government, not by UNHCR.

Canberra considering

Ms Hansen said UNHCR had been in discussion with the Australian immigration department about the decision to reopen cases on Nauru.

"We understand (the government is) considering whether they need to review their cases as well," she said.

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone indicated to the Sydney Morning Herald that Canberra would wait for more information before acting.

"I understand that a consolidated assessment is likely to be available from UNHCR in the near future which will give more information on the areas of concern," Ms Vanstone said.

"As soon as consolidated information is received on those areas of Afghanistan where it believes the situation has changed, the government will examine the implications for those cases on Nauru previously assessed," she said.

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