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MELBOURNE, Australia (May 9, 2000 - Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat)---The Australian government is concerned about Tongans who overstay their visitor’s visas.

Some Tongan overstayers have been in Australia illegally for up to 10 years.

Last month, representatives of the Australian Pacific Amnesty Council met with Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock to discuss the possibility of concessions to Pacific Islanders in light of the special relationship between Australia and the South Pacific.

However, Ruddock said, "We have 15,000 overstayers in Australia. They are unlawful. There’s an obligation to locate them and remove them.

"We have about 1,000 Tongans who have overstayed. It presents a problem in relation to the integrity of our migration program."

Ruddock said a selection process allows some overstayers who have close family relations to Australians or who have valuable working skills to stay longer in the country.

"Tonga is one of the countries that present a risk factor," he said. "Therefore we have to scrutinize all requests to come to Australia, including from bona fide visitors.

"The clear message is you are disadvantaging people at home if you overstay in Australia," he said.

For additional reports from Radio Australia/Pacific Beat, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia/Pacific Beat.

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