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Boat people to 'wait for years' for NZ resettlement

Published: 10:04AM Saturday February 09, 2013 Source: ONE News

Refugees to be resettled in New Zealand under a deal with Australia will still have to wait for years in Australia or an offshore centre, according to Amnesty International.

The human rights organisation has criticised the deal in which New Zealand has agreed to resettle 150 of Australia's boat people each year.

It means 150 of the 750 refugees New Zealand already takes as part of its commitment to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees will come from Australia, potentially from controversial detention centres like those on Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

The deal was reached in annual talks between Prime Minister John Key and his  Australian counterpart Julia Gillard in Queenstown.

Amnesty International says it is deeply concerned that the deal does not address refugee protection in the region, and may actually undermine a regional approach to refugees.

Of particular concern is that the 150 refugees to be resettled by New Zealand will still have to wait for years in Australia or in an offshore centre, like those in refugee camps, under the "no advantage policy", Amnesty said in a statement.

"It is extremely disappointing to see the New Zealand Government's support for this policy, in its acceptance of this deal," said Amanda Brydon, Amnesty International's Government Relations Manager.

Amnesty International, along with the UNHCR have repeatedly dismissed the "no advantage" policy as an unrealistic concept that does not align with the reality of refugee situations around the world, Brydon said.

Moreover, countries like New Zealand and Australia who have signed the Refugee Convention should not be purposely trying to lower their standards of protection to deter asylum seekers to seek this protection by boat, but providing that protection as required to meet their international obligations, she said.

It is also disappointing that the New Zealand Government will be including refugees who have arrived in Australia in its already small quota of 750, Brydon said.

"As a country that receives so few asylum seekers arriving at its borders, New Zealand should be focusing on increasing its resettlement program.

"In particular, with countries like Syria, Mali and Afghanistan continuing to produce record numbers of refugees, this is not the time to be taking refugees from a country like Australia.
"There is no reason why the Australian Government cannot protect the refugees who arrive in their territory, instead of continuing to palm them off on neighbouring countries."

'Regional problem'

Gillard said: "We are looking at what is a regional problem. Collaboration, working together, including working together in this way is of merit."

Australia will monitor the sea and help with processing if boat people make it to New Zealand.

However, Amnesty International said it rejects the idea that the deal in any way contributes to a "regional approach to refugees".

If Australia and New Zealand are genuinely committed to a regional approach then they need to engage meaningfully with countries like Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, not just each other, Brydon said.

New Zealand has never had boat people arrived on its shores. 

Asked if this deal is a high price to pay for extra support with processing, Key said: "No, I don't think so.

"I mean in the end, we're going to take 750 refugees a year. The debate is now about where those refugees come from. If we take 150 from Australia and 600 from other camps around the world what difference really does it make?" he asked.

Mass detention law

Labour says it is a back down from Key on the Government's proposed "mass detention law".
The law change before Parliament would allow for the mass detention of a group of 10 or more asylum seekers who arrive by boat.

"Just last year the Prime Minister John Key and his Immigration Minister, Nathan Guy, were describing asylum seekers who arrived by boat as 'queue jumpers' and 'illegal immigrants'," said Labour's Immigration spokesperson Darien Fenton.

"Now, however, it seems Mr Key is prepared to take a number of the very same people -  from recently reopened Australian detention centres on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island and Nauru - that he has previously disparaged."

Travel, vaccine, super, entitlements

Meanwhile, as a result of the talks between Key and Gillard, another $8 million will go into SmartGate technology to make travel between New Zealand and Australian airports easier.

Key and Gillard also revealed a plan to provide $3 million in matched funding over two years to support trans-Tasman collaboration to identify potential vaccines for rheumatic fever.
"The incidence of this disease is very high among Maori, Pacific Island, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and an effective vaccine would be a major step forward for the health of these communities in both countries and across the Pacific," said Key.

And from July 1, retirement savings will be able to be transferred between the two countries.

Meanwhile, Key has been knocked back on the issue of entitlements for New Zealanders living in Australia.

Key said he would go in and advocate for Kiwis living in Australia to have the same rights as Australians living in New Zealand.

However, Gillard is having none of this and Key has told ONE News that he will keep trying.