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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 December, 2003, 11:28 GMT
Australia defends migrant policy
Unidentified asylum seeker on Nauru
Some protesters have stitched their lips together
Australia has defended its immigration policy after the United Nations said it should reassess Afghan asylum seekers it is holding in an offshore camp.

Immigration minister Amanda Vanstone said the policy deterred people smugglers from "dumping" migrants in the country.

More than 40 of those detained at the camp on the south Pacific island of Nauru are currently on hunger strike.

They say they face persecution if they return home - Afghanistan, for many.

Fatality fears

"It's a good policy, it's a strong policy," Ms Vanstone told the BBC's World Today programme.

Wreckage of car after bomb attack in Kandahar, Afghanistan
Attacks by remnants of Afghan Taleban regime have increased in the country
"We had tremendous difficulties in the late 1990s with people smugglers just dumping people on Australian shores, charging large amounts of money to do so and promising a positive immigration outcome."

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

It then asked the Australian Government to do likewise for about 180 other Afghan detainees at the camp.

The detainees are angry that their visa requests were declined because Australia says Afghanistan is now safe enough for them to return to.

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.

At least 14 of those on hunger strike have been admitted to hospital with dehydration and medical officials told French news agency AFP that protesters have vowed to continue their protest even if they are successfully treated.

Senior staff have expressed fears that detainees could die if a solution is not found soon.

'Deteriorating security'

A spokeswoman for UNHCR Australia, Ellen Hansen, told BBC News Online on Wednesday 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.

A spate of recent attacks by suspected remnants of Afghanistan's Taleban regime has increased instability in the country.

Nauru hunger strike protest grows
24 Dec 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Australia shifts on Nauru protest
19 Dec 03  |  Asia-Pacific
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20 Jun 03  |  Asia-Pacific
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17 Jul 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Nauru
31 Jan 03  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Nauru
18 Feb 03  |  Asia-Pacific

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