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Australia Denies Asylum to Afghans

September 10, 2002

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CANBERRA, Australia (AP) _ Hundreds of Afghan asylum seekers detained by Australia on a Pacific island have been denied refugee status because the Taliban no longer rule their homeland, the government and the United Nations said Tuesday.

Department of Immigration officers and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees rejected 440 of the 506 claims for asylum recently processed, the department said. That means just 66 were recognized.

Most of the rejected asylum seekers were Afghans fleeing the Taliban, UNHCR spokeswoman Ellen Hanson said.

``While the majority have not been found to be refugees, these people might have had a legitimate reason to leave when they did, but with the overthrow of the Taliban circumstances have changed dramatically,″ Hanson said.

The department also rejected claims from some Iraqis and people of other nationalities who remain detained in a Nauru camp. The government would not release detailed breakdowns of the applicants’ nationalities.

Almost 2,000 asylum seekers who tried to enter Australia by boat were shipped to detention camps built on Nauru and Papua New Guinea after Prime Minister John Howard declared last year that no more would set foot in Australia.

The policy, known as the Pacific Solution, triggered international condemnation but was popular at home. Many analysts said it was a major factor in Howard’s government winning a third term in last year’s elections.

A Department of Immigration spokeswoman said 1,134 people remain on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. They include the 506 people whose claims were just processed.

To date, 152 people from the Pacific camps have been granted asylum in Australia, while 194 have been granted asylum in New Zealand. Another 59 have returned home voluntarily.

For those asylum seekers in the Pacific camps not granted refugee status, the Australian government offers a repatriation package worth $1,100 a person and up to $5,500 a family if they return home.

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