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TARAWA, Kiribati (October 23, 2001 – BBC)---Australia appeared to have closed another deal on Tuesday to ship unwanted asylum seekers to a Pacific island nation where their applications will be processed.

The President of Kiribati, Teburoro Tito, reportedly said he had agreed to take up to 500 asylum seekers.

He told the AFP news agency they could be held on Kanton, a remote and nearly deserted atoll between Tarawa and Hawai‘i.

Australia has already sent about 1,000 refugees to the island of Nauru, to New Zealand and to Papua New Guinea. Both Fiji and Palau are also considering similar requests from Australia.

Australia is in the middle of a general election campaign and the ruling Liberal Party has seen its popularity rise dramatically since Prime Minister John Howard first adopted a hard-line policy towards asylum seekers in late August.

President Tito said Kanton had some facilities left from the period when it was used by British and U.S. military personnel.

"There are facilities there such as an airport and a good harbor," he said.


Australia completed on Monday the transfer of more than 220 asylum seekers from its territory to the remote Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

The mainly Iraqi asylum seekers were flown from Australia's Christmas Island on three air force C-130 Hercules transport planes.

In an agreement with the PNG Government, the asylum seekers will stay in a former World War II air and naval staging point facility while they have their claims processed.

Another boatload, with about 180 people who say they are fleeing Afghanistan, remains moored off Christmas Island refusing to return to international waters.

The government recently passed border control laws, which it says allow asylum seekers to be turned away from certain remote islands, such as Christmas Island.

Human rights groups have criticized the changes, saying Australia's actions could place it in breach of its obligations under international human rights agreements.


For additional reports from the BBC, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/BBC News: Asia-Pacific.

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