January 11, 2016 | theguardian
A two-year-old offer from New Zealand to resettle 150 refugees a year from Australia’s offshore detention centres remains untouched by a reluctant Australian government, despite a public plea from people on Nauru.
The New Zealand government has since reallocated this year’s places to Syrian refugees but says the offer remains part of its official immigration policy and open to the Australian government.
Last week 28 refugees on Nauru wrote to the New Zealand prime minister, John Key, asking to be resettled in that country under the Australia-New Zealand agreement.
The refugees have been found to have a well-founded fear of persecution in their homelands but have been offered only temporary residence in Nauru.
“Australia will not accept us despite us asking them for safety,” the handwritten letter, signed and affixed with the refugees’ boat numbers, says.
“They gave us to the Nauru government and told us we were now their responsibility. Nauru has not given us, and does not have the means to give us, permanent protection and safety.
“After 30 months in mouldy tents and now in the community where we are not accepted, some of us now have travel papers which give us the freedom to leave.”
In response to the letter, New Zealand’s immigration minister, Michael Woodhouse, said it was up to Australia to resettle people from its offshore detention camps and that New Zealand remained willing to assist.
“It is for Australia to take up the offer to utilise the up to 150 places and to date they have not done so,” he said. “As such, the places are reallocated to the annual quota and most recently the places were given to Syrian refugees.”
In a deal brokered between prime ministers Key and Julia Gillard in 2013, New Zealand agreed to accept 150 refugees from Australia’s offshore processing centres each year from 2014-15.
The quota remains in New Zealand’s forward planning for humanitarian resettlement.
But when the former Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, was elected he effectively scrapped the deal at the Australian end, saying it would be called upon only “if and when it becomes necessary”.
“Our determination is to stop the boats and one of the ways that we stop the boats is by making it absolutely crystal clear that if you come to Australia illegally by boat you go not to New Zealand but to Nauru or Manus and you never ever come to Australia,” he said.
The Coalition government is loath to have refugees resettled in New Zealand as it is seen as undermining a fundamental tenet of the policy: that boat-borne asylum seekers will never be settled in Australia.
Refugees resettled in New Zealand can apply to become citizens after five years. New Zealand citizenship would give those people the right to travel and work in Australia.
The prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said he believed resettlement in New Zealand would be an incentive for asylum seekers to board boats.
“I think an outcome like that could … result in creating incentives for people smugglers to get back into business,” he said.
Some refugees on Nauru have recently been granted travel documents, which would allow them to travel to another country that was willing to admit them. The visa to live in Nauru expires in five years.
Nauruan officials maintain that all refugees must ultimately be resettled in another country.
So far, 815 people have been granted refugee status on the island, including, it is understood, about 80 children. They are living in the detention centre or in the Nauruan community.
A further 543 people, including 70 children, remain in the detention centre awaiting a refugee status determination.
After Nauru and Manus Island’s first iterations as Australian immigration detention facilities – under the “Pacific Solution” between 2001 and 2008 – 705 people from those centres were resettled in Australia and 401 in New Zealand. Far smaller numbers were resettled in Sweden, Canada, Denmark and Norway.