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Australian Navy Prepares Refugee Transfer - 2001-09-02


Australian naval vessels near Christmas Island are preparing for the high-seas transfer of more than 430 asylum seekers from a Norwegian freighter to an Australian troop transport.

But the operation is on hold until a Monday court ruling on a lawsuit by civil rights organizations seeking to keep the migrants in Australia

If the court allows, Australian Prime Minister John Howard says the troop ship will take the mostly-Afghan refugees boat to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, where they will board flights for New Zealand and the Pacific island of Nauru.

The two countries have agreed to temporarily accept the asylum seekers.

The migrants have languished on the cramped deck of the Norwegian freighter Tampa since Monday, when they were rescued from a sinking Indonesian ferry.

Indonesia is refusing to take the migrants back, saying they are now the responsibility of Australia. Australia's refusal to allow the migrants entry touched off the humanitarian stalemate.

Norway, the United Nations, Indonesia and Afghanistan say Australia's refusal to accept the migrants violates international refugee and maritime law. But the Canberra government -- deluged in recent months with refugee applications -- says it will not accept any additional refugees.

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