New Zealand’s humanitarian offer to take Manus refugees deserves consideration


Why is it acceptable to send refugees from Manus Island to America but not to New Zealand?

This is the question that is being asked with ever increasing frequency following New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Adern’s, re-affirmation of her nation’s offer to provide a safe haven for up to 150 detainees over the weekend.

Both are prosperous, first world nations. The United States is, if anything, a preferable destination for so-called economic immigrants than our trans-Tasman neighbour.

If New Zealand’s no strings attached proposition must be refused because to accept it would risk restarting the boats then surely the same is true of America.

The Kiwi offer, originally made in 2013 by John Key, stands in stark contrast to the American deal the Government has been pursuing relentlessly, but to little effect, for over a year.

That arrangement was struck with the Obama administration after Australia agreed to assist America with the resettlement of Central American refugees at the U.S. Leaders Summit in September 2016.

It is very unpopular with President Trump and is yet to show much activity. Only 54 people have been resettled to date.

While America has committed to accepting “up to 1250 refugees” the likelihood is far fewer than that will ever make their way across the Pacific.

During a heated phone conversation between Mr Turnbull and Mr Trump in January the Australian Prime Minister told the incoming president the U.S. didn’t have to resettle anybody, just to go through the motions of vetting them.

When Mr Trump asked “suppose I vet them closely and I do not take any?” Mr Turnbull replied “That’s the point I have been trying to make”.

New Zealand’s gesture, by way of contrast, appears to be driven by humanitarian considerations, although recent acrimony over NZ Labour’s role in digging up information relating to Barnaby Joyce’s citizenship status is still a sore point with the Australian government. But the deal on offer would remove at least 150 of the 447 Manus Island detainees who have been confirmed as refugees from an increasingly dire situation.

The offer has been rejected by both Labor and Coalition Governments over the last four years.

That stance may soon have to change given the humanitarian catastrophe the Turnbull Government is currently unleashing on Manus.  More than 600 refugees and asylum seekers are in limbo following the decision to close the detention centre.

Many are refusing to relocate to new accommodation citing fears for their safety due to the hostility of elements of the local population. Water, power, sewerage and food have been cut off. Locals who have attempted to give the men food have been turned away.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has described it as an “unfolding humanitarian emergency”. This is not a good look given Australia has just become one of the 15 members of the UN’s Human Rights Council.

If the Government made it a condition of their resettlement to New Zealand that the 150 could never be admitted to Australia at a later date what possible objection can there be to letting them go? While the politics may be popular with Mr Turnbull, it does offer a possible solution. Without a break in the current impasse the news out of Australia’s offshore processing centres can only get worse.

New Zealand News

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