Australia admits refugees, still set to end Pacific solution

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Australia is admitting a group of refugees from Sri Lanka as it gets ready to start talks with Nauru about closing its Offshore Processing Centre as part of its plan to end the so-called 'Pacific solution'.

Seventy-five Sri Lankan refugees are scheduled to resettle in Australia in the coming weeks as they await processing at the Offshore Processing Centre in the island nation of Nauru. Twenty-one refugees will be transferred from the facility following final health and background checks.

"These people have been found to be refugees by my department under the Refugees Convention and will receive support through the Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy to establish their lives in Australia," said Senator Chris Evans, Minister for Immigration and Citizenship.

The Sri Lankans will be settled in capital cities, including areas where some of the refugees have existing family. Decisions on seven other Sri Lankans are pending. One individual was refused refugee status and his case is under review. Six others are facing criminal charges in Nauru and will remain in detention until their cases are processed through the Nauru justice system.

Evans stressed Australia's history of welcoming asylum seekers, even though the country's Pacific solution drew heavy criticism from human rights groups and other organizations.

"Australia remains one of the top three refugee resettlement countries in the world, welcoming about 13 000 refugees each year," he said. "We remain committed to supporting a well-managed refugee resettlement program."

Australia is set to end the Pacific solution, one of the promises made by recently-elected Prime Minister Kevin Rudd during his campaign. The controversial program involved transporting asylum seekers to small island nations and territories instead of allowing them to land on mainland Australia.

The Australian government announced that it will invite Nauru to commence formal discussions soon about closing the Offshore Processing Centre.

Nauru has been concerned about the closing and how it would affect Australia's assistance to the small nation. The Australian government insists it is continuing to "honour its commitment to a generous aid and capacity development program for Nauru."

While the government says it is endig the Pacific solution, it appears at least most refugees will still be processed offshore on the Australian territory of Christmas Island.

"While the Government is ending the Pacific solution with the closure of the centre on Nauru, Christmas Island will soon have an increased capacity for offshore processing of unauthorised arrivals," Evans said.

"The Government remains committed to strong border security, tough anti-people smuggling measures and the orderly processing of migration to our country," he added.