News Stories, 21 September 2001
NAURU, Sept 21 (UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency will begin screening asylum seekers on the remote Pacific island of Nauru on September 24, a process which could bring the stranded people a step closer to the end of their month-long ordeal. The asylum seekers were rescued by the Norwegian ship Tampa in late August and subsequently brought to Nauru on the Manoora, an Australian troop carrier, after Australia refused to allow them to disembark on its Christmas Island. UNHCR reported that it is screening the asylum seekers at the request of the Nauru government to determine if any of them qualify as refugees – an operation the agency expects to take several weeks.
"UNHCR now has a fully operational office in Nauru," said Ron Redmond, the agency's spokesman in Geneva. Redmond said six staff, including refugee status determination specialists, are already present, and three more staff plus interpreters are expected by September 26.
So far, the screening operation involves only asylum seekers rescued by the Tampa, and does not cover an additional 230 people who were intercepted by the Australian navy on the high seas and also brought to Nauru. Nauru has requested UNHCR to screen this second group as well, and the agency's decision on the request is expected by September 21, according to Redmond.
The Tampa asylum seekers were at the centre of an international standoff among Australia, Norway and Indonesia and the focus of a Federal court case brought by civil rights groups in Australia. The court initially ruled that Australia's decision to deny entry to the asylum seekers was not legal, but that decision was overturned on appeal, paving the way for the group's disembarkation and screening on Nauru.