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AUSTRALIA MIGRANTS - 2001-08-31


New Zealand has provided the first glimmer of hope for hundreds of Afghan refugees stranded on a Norwegian freighter in the Indian Ocean.

Prime Minister Helen Clark says her country is considering taking some of the refugees at the request of Australia.

In an interview with New Zealand's National Radio today (Friday), Ms. Clark said history would not be kind to her country if it turned away people facing catastrophe. She said she did not know how many of the refugees New Zealand might be able to take. She also called for an international solution to the crisis.

Australia has been sharply criticized for refusing entry to the 460 refugees, most of them from Afghanistan. It is providing food and water to the boat people, but is adamant about not taking them in. The Norwegian freighter is anchored off Australia's Christmas Island.

The refugees have been crowded on the deck of freighter since it rescued them Sunday from a sinking Indonesian ferry. The ferry was heading to Australia's Christmas Island where the refugees hoped to get asylum.

Indonesia, like Australia, says it will not permit the refugees to enter its territories.

Wednesday, Australian troops boarded the ship and told the captain to return to international waters, but he refused.

The United States called on Australia, Indonesia and Norway to work together to resolve the standoff. In Paris Thursday, the International Federation of Human Rights League appealed to Australia to immediately grant at least temporary asylum to the refugees.

U-N High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson says Australia bears primary responsibility for the migrants. She told British radio Thursday the U-N Convention on Human Rights requires Australia to take in the refugees.

Norway has lodged formal complaints with the United Nations and the International Red Cross over Australia's refusal to accept the asylum seekers.

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