Four months after refusing to take in migrants from the tiny, sinking Pacific nation of Tuvalu, Australia has asked Tuvalu to take in Middle East emigrants seeking asylum. Australia has turned away about 1,500 asylum seekers since August, sending many to small Pacific nations.
With a total land area of approximately 10 square miles and a population of 11,000 people, Tuvalu is one-tenth the size of Washington D.C., and is spread over nine atolls.
Earlier this year Tuvalu, concerned about rising sea levels which it blames on climate change, appealed to New Zealand and Australia to take in some of its islanders. New Zealand agreed to help, but Australian Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock refused. ?They have to meet the normal migration criteria that apply to anybody in the world who wants to come to Australia,? he says.
The new Australian Government was re-elected for a third term after taking a hard line on immigration. They refused to take in a boatload of asylum seekers rescued by a Norwegian freighter in August, and sent some to the island nation of Nauru and some to New Zealand. Papua New Guinea is also taking in asylum seekers, while Palau and Fiji are considering requests to temporarily house boat people.
The Australian Navy recently took more than 300 Vietnamese and Middle Eastern asylum seekers to the Australian territory of Christmas Island. They were taken from three boats off the north-west coast of Australia after two women died trying to escape a fire on one of the boats.
Tuvalu Government spokesman Panapa Nelesone says Tuvalu will wait for a written request from Australia before responding. ?When we receive it we will look at it and respond to it,? he said from the capital, Funafuti. But he?s not happy about it. ?We ask them for space and now they?re sending us their own people.?
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