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Australia may ink deal on resettlement of Tamil asylum-seekers

world Updated: Dec 17, 2009 09:58 IST

Australia is close to ink a deal with New Zealand, Canada, Norway and possibly the US to help resettle the 78 Tamil asylum-seekers rescued by Customs vessel the Oceanic Viking.

A number of countries have indicated willingness to take some of the Sri Lankans, who were rescued in October after their boat sank, The Australian said on Thursday.

However, while sources said a "significant" number of the Sri Lankans are expected to be resettled in third countries, Australia is still set to take the majority.

The new development followed after a boat carrying 55 suspected asylum seekers was intercepted off Ashmore Reef on Tuesday night taking the tally to 55 vessels this year.

According to an Immigration Department spokesman, there are currently 1,443 detainees on the island which is expected to touch 1,498 after those people are transferred.

Meanwhile, there is a growing expectation that the government will begin transferring asylum-seekers to detention centres on the mainland.

At least three countries -- New Zealand, Canada and Norway -- are believed to have indicated to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees a willingness to take some of the 78 Tamils.

The US is also understood to be interested, although it is not clear if a formal offer has been made.

New Zealand's involvement would represent an about-face a month after Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman refused to help resettle the Tamils, issuing a pointed rebuff to the Rudd government over its "ad hoc" handling of the incident.

A spokeswoman for Coleman could not be contacted for comment on Wednesday.