Green MP Keith Locke is asking the Labour government to stop dodging the hard moral question and to state publicly that it will accept some of the asylum-seekers interned on Nauru.
“The country may still be in holiday-mode but that is no excuse for the government to stop functioning,” said Mr Locke, the Green Foreign Affairs spokesperson. “It is simply unacceptable for ministers to deny any responsibility for making a decision, when a single word of hope could help save lives.
“What we need is a clear statement that New Zealand will take some of the suffering asylum seekers on Nauru. This would give hope to them, and embarrass the Howard government into moving quicker on this crisis of its own making.
“John Howard has presented Nauru as part of a ‘Pacific solution’ for asylum seekers. But for 284 Afghans it has become a Pacific hell-hole.
“It is just not good enough to dismiss this as an ‘Australian problem’. New Zealand may not be a target for boat people because of our geographical isolation, but as a Pacific nation we should take our share of the asylum seekers coming to the region.
“Our government can’t dodge the issue by saying we must wait for an Australian request for help,’ said Mr Locke. “Australian Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone, has already said New Zealand is welcome to take asylum seekers from Nauru.
“The hunger strikers have appealed directly to us, and refugee groups in Australia have backed them up. When people are so desperate they sew their lips up we can’t turn our back on them.
“I’m not asking the Immigration Minister, Lianne Dalziel, to break her holiday. She just needs to tell her officials that we will accept some of the asylum seekers rotting on Nauru,” Mr Locke said.
“It would be very easy for New Zealand officials to go to Nauru and select a group to come to the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre for final processing. We could start with the 35 unaccompanied minors, and then perhaps the families with babies born on the island. Their welfare demands that they be brought off the island as quickly as possible.
“These people can’t return to Afghanistan because a war is raging there. If Australia won’t do the right thing, then we must.”