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Asylum stay-puts delay Nauru unloading

BOE, Nauru -- Most of a group of would-be refugees denied access to Australia by its conservative government have so far refused to leave a navy ship off the small Pacific island of Nauru.

About 230 Iraqi and Palestinian asylum seekers told migration officials Monday that they would not leave the HMAS Manoora unless it took them to Australia.

Since then, just 13 of the group have left the ship. Officials were continuing to negotiate with the others.

"We still have the feeling that there's lots of people in the group that want to get off (at Nauru), and we're working on ways to get to speak to them alone," International Office of Migration regional representative Mark Getchell told The Associated Press.

The IOM is a non-government body that deals with refugees all over the world.

The Iraqis and Palestinians were one of two groups of asylum seekers on the troop carrier HMAS Manoora, which arrived at Nauru on Tuesday after almost three weeks at sea.

The other group consisted of 433 mostly Afghan asylum seekers who were rescued from a sinking Indonesian ferry by the Norwegian cargo ship Tampa near the remote Australian territory of Christmas Island late last month.

The refugees, who were picked up in Australian waters September 7, claim they paid people smugglers thousands of dollars each to take them to Australia.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard turned away the boat people as part of a crackdown on people-smuggling rings that transport thousands of asylum seekers to Australia each year.

Nauru -- a tiny island state midway between Australia and Hawaii -- agreed to take the bulk of the refugees while the United Nations processes their applications for asylum.

In return, the struggling nation of 12,000 people received $10.4 million (20 million Australian dollars) in aid from the Australian government.

New Zealand has also agreed to take almost 150 men, women and children.

The refugees from the Tampa started coming ashore Wednesday, and the last of the men traveling without families disembarked early Friday. As the 57 men clambered onto landing craft to take them ashore, the remaining Tampa group gathered on the Manoora's deck to wave farewell. Those left on the ship will be flown to New Zealand, probably early next week.

The refugees who got off the Manoora are staying in a makeshift camp of huts with pressed dirt floors built by Australian soldiers in the isolated center of Nauru.

Late Friday, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the government was in talks with another tiny Pacific nation, Kiribati, to ask if its government would host refugees turned away by Australia.

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