Way Open

SYDNEY, Jan 15, 2008 (AFP) – Nauru authorities have dropped sexual assault charges against six Sri Lankan asylum seekers, paving the way for their claims to be processed, Australian immigration officials said Tuesday. The six are among the last asylum seekers held in an Australian immigration detention centre on the Pacific island which Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has vowed to shut down in the coming months.

“The criminal charges for the six have been withdrawn by the government of Nauru,” an immigration official told AFP.

“These people are innocent unless proven guilty. These six have no case to answer.”

The charges were brought last year over the alleged assault of a Nauruan woman and, while they were pending, meant the asylum claims could not be assessed.

Another 75 Sri Lankans on Nauru have been granted asylum and are expected to be resettled in Australia soon.

The controversial centre was opened in 2001 as part of the “Pacific solution” for asylum seekers of former prime minister John Howard. Rudd vowed to close it down during the campaign for November’s election but has vowed to maintain a tough stance on illegal asylum seekers.