Australia says 72 Sri Lankan boatpeople are refugees

SYDNEY, Sept 12, 2007 (AFP) – Australia Wednesday granted refugee status to 72 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers who were intercepted at sea in February but said they would be settled overseas. Earlier this month two Indonesians who were on the boat with the Sri Lankans were jailed in Australia over the people-smuggling operation. A boat carrying 83 Sri Lankan men was picked up about 50 nautical miles off Christmas Island in February and Australia initially discussed their fate with Indonesia, from where they had started the last leg of their journey.

But amid criticism Indonesia would return the men to Sri Lanka, Canberra shipped the group to the tiny island of Nauru for processing under its controversial “Pacific solution” policy.

Canberra pays impoverished Nauru to keep unwanted arrivals in detention until their cases are assessed, a policy refugee groups say prohibits asylum-seekers from applying for protection on Australia soil.

Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said 72 of the Sri Lankan asylum-seekers had been assessed as refugees while seven cases were still under consideration.

One Sri Lankan had been refused refugee status but could appeal the decision, he said, add

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