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SYDNEY, Australia (September 18, 2001 – Sydney Morning Herald/PINA Nius Online)---Angry Iraqi asylum seekers aboard the HMAS Manoora said yesterday they would refuse to go ashore in Nauru, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

International refugee officials said there was shouting when they tried to address asylum seekers on the troop ship, which is just off Nauru's coast, the newspaper reported.

The asylum seekers -- shipped to Nauru as part of Australia's crackdown to stop people being smuggled into Australia -- were due to be landed in Nauru, where the Australian Army is building a detention center.

Mark Getchell, from the International Organization for Migration, responsible for monitoring the welfare of people seeking refugee status, was flown to the Manoora aboard a Navy helicopter.

"They were not listening. They were too angry," Mr. Getchell was quoted as saying in a Sydney Morning Herald report from Nauru.

He spoke to only one of the two groups of asylum seekers on the ship: 237 people from a boat intercepted by the Australian Navy off Ashmore Reef north of Australia. This group is mainly women and children, but yesterday a number of Iraqi men began shouting whenever Nauru was mentioned.

"We have an idea that there are quite a few who would be willing to come, but they are sort of being pressured by others," Mr. Getchell said. "They are trying to intimidate them into a stand to not leave the ship."

Mr. Getchell said that his organization would not use force to remove any asylum seekers from the Manoora. He had not heard any suggestion the Australian military would do so, he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Australian Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said a small number of people of Iraqi background were refusing to disembark and had tried to intimidate others into staying aboard.

Mr. Ruddock said the Manoora would not be returning to Australia straight away so staying aboard would serve little purpose.

The government yesterday won a court appeal, allowing all the boat people aboard the Manoora to be offloaded at Nauru for processing of their refugee status.

The second group aboard the Manoora comprises the 433 asylum seekers who were last month transferred from the Norwegian freighter MV Tampa. The vessel was prohibited from landing them on Australian territory after the boat people were rescued at sea from their sinking boat.

Nauru was promised AU$ 20 million (US$ in financial and other assistance by the Australian government in return for taking asylum seekers while their refugee status claims are processed.

The group from the Tampa will be briefed on the government's successful legal appeal against a court order that they be returned to the Australian mainland.

Mr. Getchell said he had been told by colleagues that many of those from the Tampa had seemed resigned to being taken to Nauru, regardless of the outcome of the court case.

The plan is for about 150 of those from the Tampa to be flown to New Zealand for processing.

Mr. Getchell told the Sydney Morning Herald that most of those from the Aceng appeared to be well educated and had a good command of English. He said conditions aboard the Manoora were cramped, with the asylum seekers in bunks four levels high.

The newspaper said none of the asylum seekers -- who come from Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and Sri Lanka -- were told of the terrorist attacks in the United States, for security reasons.

Mr. Getchell said Nauru had agreed to take a rotating total of up to 700 asylum seekers, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. But it said a Nauru government spokesman disputed this, saying any additional asylum seekers would have to be considered by Nauru's Cabinet and Parliament.

Australia believes as many as 9,000 more asylum seekers could be trying to sail to Australia, many brought in by people smugglers via Indonesia.

Mr. Ruddock said other boat people were currently at Ashmore Reef and at Cocos Island.

He said the government intended to proceed with its border protection legislation, validating its actions over the MV Tampa and in excising Cocos and Christmas Islands from Australia's refugee zone.

For additional reports from The Sydney Morning Herald, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: 

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