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Refugees to Sail for Papua New Guinea aboard Australian Troop Ship - 2001-09-03


More than 430 refugees at the center of an international dispute are headed for Papua New Guinea aboard an Australian troop transport.

The refugees, mostly from Afghanistan, were preparing to depart Australia's Christmas Island for Port Moresby late Monday, after being transferred from a Norwegian freighter that had rescued them from a crippled ferry eight days ago.

The voyage to Papua New Guinea is part of an Australian-brokered deal designed to break a multi-nation deadlock over the refugees' fate. Upon arrival in Port Moresby, the migrants are slated to fly to New Zealand and the tiny island nation of Nauru, to await official word on their final destinations.

If their asylum applications are approved, the refugees will be redirected to other countries for resettlement, including Australia.

Monday's transfer began after an Australian court lifted an injunction preventing the boat people from leaving Australian waters. The court acted after an agreement between the government and a civil-rights group that wanted to allow the boat people to enter Australia.

Last week, the Canberra government, which has been deluged with refugee applications and an increasing stream of illegal migrants, refused to allow the boat people entry. The refusal sparked broad criticism from the United Nations and international relief agencies and touched off off the international stalemate.

Norway, the United Nations, Indonesia and Afghanistan strongly criticized Australia for refusing to accept the migrants, saying the refusal violated international refugee and maritime law. In rejecting those criticisms, Prime Minister John Howard said his government was drawing the line on illegal migration. His hardline stance has received strong support from the Australian public.

Some information for this report provided by AFP and AP.

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