12 Sep 2007

72 Sri Lankans on Nauru accepted as refugees

7:10 pm on 12 September 2007

A group of 72 Sri Lankans held on Nauru who were among 83 asylum-seekers intercepted en route to Australia in February have been accepted as refugees.

The Sri Lankans have been on Nauru for several months since their vessel was intercepted by HMAS Success near Christmas Island on February 20.

The Sri Lankan Government has branded the group "economic refugees" and demanded Australia return them to their war-torn homeland.

The Australian Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews says only one had been refused refugee status.

He says Australia is now exploring resettlement options in other countries for the Sri Lankans accepted as refugees.

Mr Andrews says they will remain in Nauru while arrangements are made to resettle them elsewhere.

A further two have already been classed as refugees in Indonesia before setting off for Australia.

Five of the Sri Lankan detainees held on Nauru have been charged with the indecent assault of a local woman, while one has been charged with rape.

The six facing charges were among the seven asylum seekers whose applications for refugee status are yet to be finalised.