NZ should help Australia by taking more refugees

New Zealand should reject any role in processing asylum seekers offshore, as proposed yesterday by Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Green Party Foreign Affairs spokesperson Keith Locke said today.

The initiative was announced yesterday by Ms Gillard, and has been canvassed with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key. Timor-Leste has been suggested as an offshore centre to process asylum seekers.

“It would be unfortunate if New Zealand gave legitimacy to a ‘regional centre’ on Timor-Leste that was really just another Australian detention camp,” said Mr Locke.

“This is just a re-run of what happened under the Howard government, when asylum seekers were left to rot on Nauru island, sometimes for years.

“We must remind Australia of its responsibility under the Refugee Convention to process any arriving asylum seekers in Australia itself.

Mr Locke suggested New Zealand could assist Australia solve its refugee problem by taking more refugees ourselves.

According to Immigration New Zealand data the total number of people given refugee status in New Zealand is well down on what it was a few years ago. In 2008/09 the number of quota refugees accepted was 50 short of the 750 target, and the number of people claiming asylum at our airports has dropped significantly.

“We have already agreed to take 13 Tamil asylum seekers from the ship Oceanic Viking. But we can take more,” said Mr Locke.

“Let us reaffirm New Zealand’s reputation as a compassionate country by taking more of those desperate people fleeing persecution in places like Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

“Our refugee quota could be increased from 750 to 1000, with little sacrifice.”