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Last Updated: Monday, 10 December 2007, 05:16 GMT
Canberra signals immigration move
Asylum seekers in Nauru (file image)
Australia established a detention camp on Nauru in 2001
Australia's new government has accepted seven Burmese asylum seekers being held in Nauru, signalling a wind-down of a controversial immigration policy.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans said admitting the group was a first step in dismantling the previous government's so-called "Pacific Solution".

Under the policy, all asylum seekers arriving by boat were sent to remote Pacific camps for refugee assessment.

Rights groups criticised the policy and Labor promised to end it if elected.

It is the second major change since Labor swept to victory in last month's polls.

Last week, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd signed documents to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change - something his predecessor John Howard opposed.

Mr Howard's tough stance against immigrants was condemned by human rights groups, but it was supported by many Australians.

During his election campaign, Mr Rudd vowed to maintain a hard line on the issue of immigation, while making clear he was against the "Pacific Solution".

Poor conditions

Mr Evans said that the Burmese refugees, who have been detained in Nauru for more than a year, would be resettled in Queensland, hopefully before the end of the month.

map

"There's no reason why they shouldn't be processed quickly," he said. "In fact in my view they should have been processed some time ago, but we're keen to resolve their issues."

The government also hoped to resolve cases of about 80 Sri Lankans detained in the Pacific island nation as soon as possible, he said.

A team of officials flew there on Sunday to speed up the assessment process.

The "Pacific Solution" was introduced as a deterrent in 2001, following a reported rise in the number of asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat.

Canberra set up detention centres on Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island, deploying its navy to divert all boats carrying asylum seekers to Australia to those camps.

But rights groups condemned the move, which led to many refugees being detained for months in high-security camps, often in poor conditions.

The camp in Nauru was hit by hunger strikes as detainees protested against their treatment, and in recent years the government has scaled back the number of detainees.

Chief Executive of the Refugee Council of Australia Paul Power welcomed Labor's move to change the policy.

"It (the 'Pacific Solution') was a failed policy that created great psychological damage to people who had committed no crime and undermined Australia's international reputation on human rights," he said in a statement.



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