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UNHCR hopes Australian court decision means end to ordeal at sea

News Stories, 11 September 2001

CANBERRA, Sept 11 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency expressed its hopes that an Australian Federal Court decision issued September 11 will bring a quick end to the two-week ordeal of the asylum seekers rescued at sea by the Norwegian ship Tampa. The Court ordered the return to Australia of over 400 asylum seekers en route to Papua New Guinea on board the Australian Naval vessel HMAS Manoora. UNHCR said in a statement that it hopes that the asylum seekers will now be granted speedy access to fair and effective procedures for determining their status and protection needs in Australia, without further delay.

The asylum seekers were transferred to the Manoora on September 3 after spending over a week stranded aboard the Tampa near Australia's Christmas Island. During the week-long standoff, UNHCR had urged the three governments involved Australia, Indonesia and Norway to meet and resolve the impasse. At UNHCR-hosted meetings in Geneva on August 31 and September 1 with the three countries as well as New Zealand, UNHCR proposed a three-point solution involving temporary disembarkation of the asylum seekers on Australia's Christmas Island, the nearest possible landing point to the Tampa, screening of the asylum seekers, and resettlement to third countries.

Australia decided to move the people to the Manoora as part of a plan brokered with the Pacific island nation of Nauru and New Zealand to take in the asylum seekers for screening. The Republic of Nauru had requested UNHCR's participation in screening the asylum seekers, if and when they arrived on the island. The group was en route to Papua New Guinea, from where they were to be flown to Nauru and New Zealand when the Federal Court made its ruling.

Also currently on board the Manoora are an additional 200 people intercepted at sea by Australia on September 8. The Federal Court case, filed by Australian civil rights groups, focuses only on the original group of asylum seekers from the Tampa, however, and it is as yet unclear how the ruling might impact the second group of 200.

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