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SUVA, Fiji Islands (October 24, 2001 – Daily Post)---Fiji is now seriously considering allocating an island as a processing center for Afghanistan refugees seeking entry into Australia.

After an intense Cabinet meeting yesterday, the government has appointed a taskforce to look into Australia's proposal to provide a processing facility in Fiji.

Foreign Affairs Minister Kaliopate Tavola said last night that the taskforce will scrutinize the proposal.

The taskforce is led by Mr. Tavola and includes Attorney General Qoriniasi Bale, Home Affairs Minister Joketani Cokanasiga, Education Minister Ro Teimumu Kepa and Information Minister Josefa Vosanibola.

Mr. Tavola said the Cabinet needs more details on how the refugees will be dealt with, if a deal is finalized between Australia and Fiji.

"The Cabinet wants to know more as, at the moment, we don't have relevant details on the matter. The taskforce established will take time to prepare a comprehensive report on Australia's proposal," he said

For a start, Mr Tavola stressed, that Cabinet needs to fully know: how the processing center is run on a daily basis; role of the international organizations involved, including the United Nations, and what guarantee Australia gives that Fiji will just host the asylum-seekers to process their migration papers and that no refugee will be left here.

Asked if Australia has indicated the benefits, monetary or otherwise, to Fiji if it will accept the refugees, Mr Tavola said: "That detail has not been properly sorted out yet. . .this is something that we need to look into.

"All I have received at the moment is a letter from Australia conveying the proposal. So there is a need for a lot more interaction."

The Australian Government has offered some AU$ 20 million dollars to Nauru, where the first group of refugees from Afghanistan were off-loaded.

Papua New Guinea, which has agreed to accept some refugees, received a million dollars from the Australian Government, which will cater for other expenses that would occur, while some 220 boat people are on a navy ship near Christmas Island awaiting the Government's decision on their fate.

Mr. Tavola said whatever monetary benefit Fiji receives from Australia if a deal is truck would assist the education sector and the health care system.

"And the taskforce formed will have to look at all this -- the benefits that Fiji will enjoy," Mr. Tavola said.

He said that the Cabinet will also have to decide on the venue to host the refugees.

"There are a number of venues we can pick from. The taskforce will also decide on this. Speculation that it is likely they may be held on Makogai is not true," he said

The Fiji Muslim League President Hafiz Khan said the decision to accept Afghan refugees here would be entirely the Government's.

"Our concern is for the Fiji Muslims," Mr Khan said

Some political parties have strongly criticized any move by the Qarase Government to accept the Afghan refugees, saying Fiji already had its own problems to deal with.

The Daily Post



SUVA, Fiji Islands (October 25, 2001 – Radio Australia)---The Fiji government is considering using a former leper colony as a processing center for Afghanistan refugees seeking entry into Australia.

The Fiji cabinet has set up a taskforce led by Foreign Affairs Minister Kaliopate Tavola to look into a request by Australia to take asylum seekers.

Mr. Tavola says he's concerned about how the center will be run, the role of the United Nations, and what guarantee there would be that no refugee will be left in Fiji.

Mr. Tavola says Australia has not offered any financial compensation, but says the (AUD) 20 million dollars given to Nauru is a benchmark.

"There has not been any offer from the Australian government and that is another area we need to look at if we are to itemize the benefits to the Fiji government," he said. "For instance, we would need to be talking to the Australian authorities on what they can offer. We've seen what Nauru can negotiate and that's a benchmark."

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



By Shiwani Diwakar

SUVA, Fiji Islands (October 24, 2001 – Fiji Sun)---Cabinet has not made any decision on Afghanistan refugees as per the request by Australia because it needs more information. And in its weekly meeting yesterday, the Cabinet decided to set up a task force to gather more information on the refugees before they should be allowed into the country.

Cabinet met till late yesterday evening discussing the refugee issue at length.

It ultimately decided that the Australian government needed to give further guarantees to Fiji that the asylum seekers would be out of Fiji at the end of the processing period, which is expected to last six weeks.

Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade Kaliopate Tavola said after deliberating on the issue, Cabinet found itself in a position where a decision could not be made.

Mr. Tavola said the role of the Task Force would be to gather details, including the benefits of the deal to Fiji.

He said the Australian government has not made a financial offer to Fiji in return for the set up of the processing center.

"They haven’t offered anything to us yet. And these are the kind of details needed to be looked at -- the benefits to Fiji, guarantees that the refugees would return after the six weeks of processing time, the role of the International Migration Agency, the role of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the security arrangement, medical and sanitary facilities," Mr. Tavola said.

"Until we have all these details we cannot make a decision."

He said details of yesterday’s Cabinet meeting have been conveyed to the Australian High Commissioner, Susan Boyd.

The Task Force will be chaired by Mr. Tavola and members include Minister for Home Affairs and Immigration Joketani Cokanasiga, Attorney General Qoroniasi Bale, Minister for Information Josefa Vosanibola and Education Minister Ro Teimumu Kepa.

Mr. Tavola said the Task Force has not been allocated a deadline and that no immediate pressure has been put on Fiji by the Australian Government.

Pacific Island nations that have responded positively to Australia include, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati and Palau.

For additional reports from the Fiji Sun, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Fiji Sun.

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