The announcement that New Zealand will take 150 refugees per year from Australia’s offshore detention centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea is good news for those refugees. They will be able to leave what the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has called “harsh” conditions with a “lack of clear and effective processing arrangements for asylum-seekers”.
But, sadly, it’s only qualified good news, because we run the risk of creating the perverse result of encouraging people to take the extreme and very dangerous measure of seeking asylum in Australia by boat. There are 8000 people waiting to be processed in Indonesian refugee camps and only two UN officers processing applications. Because of this, so few people can be processed each year that wait times can potentially be as long as 76 years! No wonder people are getting on boats. New Zealand needs to be working regionally to speed up processing in countries such as Indonesia, and to take more refugees from the region.
The Government needs to make it clear that this agreement does not mean that we support Australia’s asylum seeker policy. It must be made plain that we expect our neighbours to take responsibility for the rights of asylum seekers rather than to hide them offshore, and to treat these people who have lived through such hardship with the dignity and compassion that they deserve.
The 150 refugees should be in addition to our annual quota of 750 refugees, not simply a part of it. New Zealand needs to continue to take refugees referred to it by the United Nations from all over the world, and we cannot remove ourselves from this obligation by taking the victims of Australian mistreatment.
Unfortunately, the Government appears to disagree. John Key has stated that his Government is considering sending asylum seekers that arrive in New Zealand to the Australian-run offshore detention centres. Today, I called on him to do his research and visit the centres himself to see the horrific conditions asylum seekers are forced to live in. Amnesty International has described conditions in the Nauru detention centre as “cruel, inhumane and degrading“, and this is not something that we should ever accept.
Former Immigration Minister Aussie Malcolm summed it up well when he said “Australia and Australia alone stands out from the rest of the world with arguments about queue jumpers and all sorts of populist jargon that actually hides racism, and now New Zealand has joined Australia it’s a tragedy“