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Page last updated at 04:51 GMT, Friday, 8 February 2008

Australia ends 'Pacific Solution'

Asylum seekers in Nauru (file image)
Australia established a detention camp on Nauru in 2001

The last asylum seekers have left Australia's detention camp on Nauru, putting an end to the controversial "Pacific Solution" immigration policy.

The group of 21 Sri Lankans boarded a plane for Australia after 10 months in the Nauru camp, leaving it empty.

The move fulfils a pledge by new PM Kevin Rudd to end the policy, under which people arriving by boat were sent to remote camps for refugee assessment.

The regional head of the UN refugee agency UNHCR welcomed the move.

"This is the end of a long and fairly painful chapter in Australian asylum policy and practice," Richard Towle said.

"We're delighted that Nauru finally will have no more refugees on it from now on."

High security

The "Pacific Solution" was introduced in 2001 by the government of John Howard, in response to a reported rise in the number of asylum seekers arriving by boat.

map

Processing centres were set up on Nauru and on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, the governments of the two nations receiving millions of dollars in aid in exchange.

The Australian navy was deployed to divert all boats carrying asylum seekers to those camps, where many were detained for months under high security.

Some went on hunger strike to protest against their living conditions and continued detention.

Many Australians did support the policy but rights groups condemned it and accused Australia of failing to meet its obligations under refugee conventions.

The Manus Island camp is now empty and in recent years the number of asylum seekers in Nauru had been greatly scaled back.

Australia will, however, continue to use a recently opened processing centre on its Indian Ocean territory of Christmas Island.

Job cuts

Officials in Nauru have voiced concern over the economic impact of the closure.

About 100 people will lose their jobs, Foreign Minister Kieran Keke said, a move that would affect 1,000 people, or 10% of Nauru's population, who rely on these workers for support.

"We have got a huge number of families that are suddenly going to be without any income," he told the Australian Associated Press news agency.

"Literally we have got a major unemployment crisis in front of us."

Mr Keke has met Australian officials to discuss ways of easing the impact.

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