Mon, Jun 21, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Nauru blocks protest over detained asylum seekers

AFP , SYDNEY

Nauru said yesterday it would turn away two yachts carrying rights activists staging a World Refugee Day protest against Australia's detention of illegal immigrants on the South Pacific Island.

The "Flotilla of Hope" carried teddy bears for children in the island detention centre set up for the Australian government as part of its so-called Pacific solution to the problem of people-smuggling.

But Nauru government spokeswoman Helen Bogdan said yesterday that the Refugee Action Coalition's yachts Eureka and One Off, which left Brisbane on May 23 on the 4,000km voyage, would not be allowed to land.

Eureka was one nautical mile off the island and One Off was another nine miles away, Bogdan said.

"So far they have not been intercepted by the Nauran boats but I understand that the minister for justice this morning has said they will definitely not be allowed to go ashore," she said.

"So it is expected that the boats will go out and meet them at sea and take the presents and a representative or two from the asylum seekers will be on board those boats to greet them."

Hundreds of other sympathizers around Australia yesterday protested against their country's hardline policy of mandatory detention for all illegal immigrants.

Seven Iraqis who have been refused refugee status by Australia are understood to be on a hunger strike in the detention centre.

However, Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said the hunger strikers were all in good health and their protest would make no difference to the assessment of their asylum claims.

"We've been through this before with a hunger strike," she added.

Vanstone also issued a statement saying World Refugee Day provided an ideal opportunity to reiterate Australia's efforts in resettling more than 620,000 refugees and displaced people since World War Two.

"Australia has a long and proud history of resettling people who have genuine fear of persecution or discrimination in their homeland," she said.

"Our refugee program is one of the three largest dedicated resettlement programs in the world and in the past 10 years alone Australia has resettled more than 100,000 people under this program," Vanstone said.

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