INTRO: Diplomats from Australia, New Zealand, Norway and Indonesia met with representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva on Friday to discuss the fate of 460 mostly Afghan asylum seekers stuck on a Norwegian freighter in the Indian Ocean. Akram Gizabi of V-O-A's Dari Service reached U-N-H-C-R spokesman Kris Janowski at the agency's headquarters in Geneva and asked him about the situation.
Mr. GIZABI: What is the latest news about the situation of the boat people?
Mr. JANOWSKI: Well, essentially, what we have done is, we have proposed a solution to this impasse, and the solution involves having these people temporarily disembark on (Australia's) Christmas Island. Then we want to look at the cases -- screen them, basically. And then, we want to possibly resettle them in third countries. But, in order to do all this, we need a go-ahead -- a green light -- from Australia, for them to be able to temporarily disembark on Christmas Island, and we're now waiting for Australia's response.
Mr. GIZABI: As far as we know, the Australian government actually defended its position, meaning that it will continue to refuse to allow these people to disembark on Australian territory?
Mr. JANOWSKI: Well, we hope that the Australians will cooperate, and we have come up with a solution, which, in our view, is a reasonable solution -- is the only logical solution. These people cannot remain on the boat. They cannot be screened on the boat, because the conditions are not good enough on the boat. The boat cannot transport them anywhere, because it is not fit for that either. And also, we have come up with a solution, which does not really dump the problem on Australia. The problem will be dealt with by several countries. Norway and New Zealand have already offered to take some of these people, and more countries will probably offer to do the same. So, we are basically just offering, in our view, a reasonable solution, and a solution, which is probably quite easy -- or should be easy to accept for Australia. And, we are hoping that they will grasp this opportunity, and cooperate on this.
Mr. GIZABI: So far, no lives have been endangered on the boat. As far as their health is concerned, are they okay?
Mr. JANOWSKI: Well, we are not on the boat, so we do not have very good first-hand information from the boat. But judging from the various reports that we get, the situation on the boat is not ideal, but it is not dramatic. I mean, we don't have very serious cases of illness. The Australians have supplied the boat with food and drink. So, they are not going to starve there. But, I mean, it's a cargo ship -- it's a container ship -- it's not a ship that's equipped to carry a lot of people, even when it's stationary, let alone to transport people around.
Mr. GIZABI: Food and medicine have been taken to the boat?
Mr. JANOWSKI: The Australians have taken medical help to the boat, and they actually put a doctor on board. So, the question is not that these people will starve. But, of course, it is a difficult situation, and we think that everybody is actually interested in resolving it.
Mr. GIZABI: You mentioned that New Zealand and Norway have offered to take some of the refugees. So, how many would remain?
Mr. JANOWSKI: We don't know how many. How many the individual countries will take will depend on how many countries will volunteer to do it.
Mr. GIZABI: And so far there are only two countries?
Mr. JANOWSKI: Yes. But, I mean, we expect more countries to also pitch in.