Asylum-seekers sent to the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru will be forced initially to live in tents, Australia's Immigration Minister Chris Bowen confirmed Tuesday.
Canberra last month announced it would transfer asylum-seekers who arrived by boat to Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island as a way of deterring refugees from paying people-smugglers to transport them to Australia.
The government hopes to send the first batch to Nauru this week and is frantically working to improve facilities on the remote island.
Until permanent accommodation is ready, the boatpeople will live under canvas, reportedly five to a tent and for up to six months.
"The initial accommodation is tents," Bowen told state broadcaster ABC.
"Obviously, we are working to establish the permanent structure. There's a lot of work going on about that as well. But yes, tents will be the initial accommodation."
Bowen would not say whether children and unaccompanied minors would be sent to the Pacific camps where they could face years before being resettled as refugees in Australia or elsewhere.
"Everybody is being sent to Nauru under the (Migration) Act unless they are exempted by me as minister because of any particular vulnerabilities or for any other operational reasons," Bowen said.
But he agreed the issue of minors was a "vexed" one.
"As other people have pointed out, if you have a system where you don't somehow deal with children in a consistent way, then you will provide people-smugglers with the opportunity to say, 'Look, no worries, we'll just send boatloads of kids'," he said.
"And that is a very, very bad outcome for the children."
Bowen would not discuss the operational details of who would be sent to Nauru but said that if an asylum-seeker came to Australia by boat "we will make sure that you are processed on Nauru or PNG".
With Australia facing a record influx of boatpeople, Canberra last month announced plans to send them to the Pacific countries in a policy aimed at stemming the flow given several recent capsizes in which scores have drowned.
Since then more than 2,000 asylum-seekers have arrived by boat, bringing the total for 2012 to nearly 10,000, many of them Afghans, Iraqis and Iranians who have paid people-smugglers to ferry them from Indonesia to Australia.