NZ joins Australian asylum policy
John Key has today struck a deal with his Australian counterpart that turns both countries’ asylum policies on their heads.
Key and Australian PM Julia Gillard have announced today, 9 February 2013, – while shopping in Queenstown – that NZ will accept 150 refugees from Australian detention centres annually. This will reduce the number of refugees NZ accepts from UN refugee camps from 750 to a maximum of 600. Key tried to explain this bizarre move with having to return favours to Australia for sharing their 'intelligence' on so-called people smugglers. Australia had been "extremely helpful to New Zealand over the past four or five years", according to Key. "There are boats that we can point to that were on their way to New Zealand where Australia has effectively taken those people."
The truth is he can point to exactly one boat with a group of ten Falun Gong refugees, which had been intercepted by the Australian coast guard, and where the refugees had stated that their destination had actually been NZ. They also had no idea how far they would have still have to go and in what direction to sail.
The agreement has been slammed by Amnesty International, the NZ Refugee Council and the Australian Refugee Action Coalition, who correctly point out that the NZ contingent of 750 refugees is pathetic to start with (Australia is taking around 20,000).
Five years ago, in February 2007, the then Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd announced an end to the offshore processing policy for asylum seekers arriving in Australia. The policy had been introduced by his predecessor, John Howard, in 2001. Offshore processing means that any asylum seeker arriving in Australia is held in a detention centre on an offshore island while their claim is being processed. Rudd replaced offshore processing with the 'Pacific Solution' under which smaller Pacific countries would be bullied into building and maintaining detention centres, with the participation of NZ. However, this never got off the ground.
Then earlier last year, Australia returned to offshore processing under Julia Gillard who argued that there should be 'no advantage' for so-called boat people over those refugees who are settled from refugee camps as part of the UN contingent. 'No advantage' in this context means that asylum seekers are locked up for what Australian officials believe to be the average time refugees spend in one of those UN camps before being resettled. This is has been set to be two to three years.
However, the reality in refugee camps is different. In many of the camps people linger for 20 years or more. NZ is taking Buthanese refugees from camps in Nepal who are adults and were born in the camp.
Australia's policy of detaining people on far-away places like Nauru or Manus Island in Papua New Guinea was supposed to deter people from taking their lives into their own hands and make their own way to Australia to claim asylum. But it hasn't worked. Since re-introduction of the policy in August 2012, more than 20,000 asylum seekers have tried to get to Australia. Most of them get picked up by the Australian coast guard, but many of them drown when their flimsy and overloaded boats strike high seas.
NZ desperate to come in line with Australia
Also last year, the NZ government introduced the 'Immigration Amendment Bill' (the second amendment to the Immigration Act in just over a year), which would introduce mandatory detention of asylum seekers (those who arrive in groups of ten or more, which none ever have), just like in Australia. Because NZ doesn't really have any offshore islands suitable for detention centres, the refugees would be held in the Waiouru army base. If any boats ever arrive here.
The Bill made it to the select committee stage where 32 of 33 submissions were made against it and then it got stuck. It is doubtful, whether the National government would have the numbers to pass the Bill at the moment.
Now John Key has struck a deal with Julia Gillard to take 150 of 'their' refugees (after they have been found worthy of refugee status and have been sufficiently traumatised by being processed by Australian authorities and having been locked up for several years). This number would be subtracted from the 750 refugees NZ normally accepts from UN refugee camps.
Apart from being complete nonsense, because with a total of 20,000 refugees, the 150 going to NZ will hardly make any difference to Australia, this also contradicts the official 'no advantage' bullshit that Gillard has been putting out. If the result of this deal is that NZ will take 150 fewer refugees from UN camps in favour of those who arrived in Australia by boat, then the chances of those waiting in the camps for their resettlement will just have gotten a tiny bit smaller, giving a tiny bit more encouragement to leave the camp and try their luck.
So why are Key and Gillard striking this deal? Are they too stupid not to see the contradiction they are creating? Or are they cynical enough to actually want to encourage more people to try to get to Australia by boat in the hope that they will capsize and never make it? Australian Senator Hanson-Young almost hinted at that, when she criticised today's agreement: "Why wait for someone to take a dangerous boat journey?"
The high rate of refugees drowning on the way to Australia is already partially a result of Australia's policy of destroying any refugee boats they intercept, so that "people smugglers" will always choose to send boats that are pretty much worthless – and therefore dangerous – anyway.
Or is this the beginning of NZ's withdrawal from the UN refugee quota programme? Is NZ giving up its own assessment of refugees in favour of letting the Australian authorities do the processing? It looked that way, when Key announced that this arrangement could come in handy if any boatloads of refugees ever arrive in NZ. They could then potentially be processed by Australian authorities in one of their detention centres.
Whatever the real reason for this deal is, the NZ government will from now on carry part of the responsibility for the protests, the hunger strikes and the suicides that occur daily in Australian detention centres.
Today, apparently it dawned on John Key that just one boat with 10 people who said they had wanted to come to NZ doesn't really scare people enough, so he now talks about so-called intelligence reports from Australia which allegedly have heard about another boat destined for NZ. Of course he can't give details, because it's all hush-hush-top-security. At the same time he says "this stuff is real" and that the boat was intercepted, so it can't have been that secret...
In the meantime a former Immigration Minister has also called the agreement 'a tragedy'.