Manus Island: New Zealand urged to bypass Australia to resolve refugee crisis

Manus Island A protest inside the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea. Photograph: Reuters

Manus Island: New Zealand urged to bypass Australia to resolve refugee crisis

Refugee advocates in New Zealand and beyond are urging the new Labour government to bypass talks with Australia to resolve the escalating humanitarian crisis on Manus Island.

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern has offered to take 150 of the 400 refugees and asylum seekers who have barricaded themselves in an abandoned detention centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. The men are living in squalor without power, sanitation facilities or medical treatment, but say they fear for their safety in PNG if they were to leave.

One week ago Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull refused New Zealand’s offer, and the situation continues to deteriorate, with Amnesty International reporting 90 men are now sick.

Ardern said she intended to press Turnbull to accept New Zealand’s offer this week at their meeting in Manila, as direct talks with Australia were the “fastest route” to resolve the crisis.

“We made the offer because we saw a great need. No matter what label you put on it there is absolute need and there is harm being done,” Ardern said at the weekend at the Apec summit in Vietnam.

“I see the human face of this and I see the need and the role New Zealand needs to play. I think it’s clear that we don’t see what’s happening there as acceptable, that’s why the offer’s there.”

By Tuesday, the two leaders had not held formal talks on the issue.

Papua New Guinea MP Charlie Benjamin told Radio New Zealand that the New Zealand government should bypass Australia and discuss its offer directly with the PNG government and the UN, a suggestion refugee advocates in New Zealand are also pushing for.

Arif Saeid from the Refugee Council for New Zealand said Ardern had the “freedom” to bypass the Australian government and a humanitarian obligation to do so.

“New Zealand is one of the signatories for the UN refugee convention and if Australia does not accept New Zealand’s offer, then New Zealand can and should go straight to PNG,” said Saeid.

“The situation is getting worse day by day on Manus Island. Before anything horrible happens, New Zealand has to intervene.”

Saeid said New Zealand should also seriously consider offering asylum to all 600 men from Manus Island, as the men’s welfare was in immediate jeopardy.

Michele Cox, the CEO of Asylum Seekers Support Trust in Auckland, said if Australia did not accept New Zealand’s offer within the next few days, it was time for the government to press ahead regardless.

“We are a wealthy country, we can find that support if we really need to and this is a crisis, so it would be good to see New Zealand step in and show its humanitarian colours.

“I think the NZ government has made all the right noises. It is a very quick test of whether they are prepared to put their money where their mouth is. I have hope that they will do more.”

Greens MP Golriz Ghahraman, herself a former refugee and human rights lawyer for the UN, said Australia appeared to be “stalling” over making a decision regarding the Manus refugees and was using “delay tactics” to wait for media attention to subside so the men could be forcibly removed from the facility. She joined calls for New Zealand to take the men.

“The indication from the Mangere Refugee Centre [in Auckland] is that they can take 150 to 194 in an ordinary intake, and they can take 250 with bunking. So they can take 250, we have the resources for that.”

Australian NGOs had offered to fly to New Zealand and provide “wraparound” services for Manus Island refugees, said Ghahraman, if New Zealand took the full 600.

Gharaman said to the best of her knowledge the government was currently negotiating only with Australia, although the NZ Herald reported seeing foreign affairs minister Winston Peters holding private talks with the Papua New Guinea prime minister, Peter O’Neill, at the Apec summit.

“The best option ovbiously would be if Australia stops selling off its human rights obligations in the Pacific, closed the camps and just processed these people as refugees, as it has an obligation to do,” said Gharaman.

The United Nations refugee agency on Tuesday urged Australia to accept New Zealand’s offer to resettle 150 refugees. “We urge Australia to reconsider this and take up the offer,” Nai Jit Lam, deputy regional representative at the UNHCR said.

New Zealand currently accepts 750 refugees every year, with the new Labour government pledging to double that number in the next three years.

The New Zealand Red Cross, which helps process and integrate asylum seekers, said it was ready and prepared to accept the Manus Island refugees._ The Guardian


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