CANBERRA, Australia (May 30, 2002 – BBC)---The Australian Government is offering up to A$ 10,000 (US$ 5,640) to asylum seekers to leave detention centers on the Pacific Islands of Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Last week, the government announced it would pay the money to help Afghan refugees who had sought asylum in Australia to return home.

About 1,200 asylum seekers held on the Pacific islands will be eligible for the financial assistance.

Australian Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said the cash-for-departure scheme might yet be extended to non-Afghan asylum seekers held in detention centres on the mainland.

The latest payments will be offered to refugees whose applications are still being processed or have been rejected.

Pacific Solution

About 1,500 refugees from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Turkey were sent to the Pacific islands camps after Australia refused them entry in August last year.

Under a deal with the Australian government, Papua New Guinea accepted 500 immigrants, while Nauru took in over 1,000.

The Australian government built the detention centers to house the immigrants on a temporary basis and gave the islands financial aid.

The so-called Pacific Solution was popular among an Australian electorate opposed to increasing immigration and helped return the conservative government to office last November.

Cutting numbers

Mr. Ruddock said the scheme was part of the government's plans to cut the number of people held in the camps.

"The Australian government is fulfilling its commitment to reducing the numbers of people held at Nauru and Manus Island by extending the offer to these asylum seekers," he said in a statement.

About 220 asylum seekers on Nauru and 217 in Papua New Guinea have had their applications for refugee status accepted.

The scheme offers to assist the remainder of asylum seekers to return to their country of origin or a third country.

There are currently about 1,200 asylum seekers detained on mainland Australia, mainly from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan.

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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