Australia Rejects New Zealand Offer To Take Stranded Refugees

The Australian government has rejected an offer by its New Zealand counterpart to take in 150 refugees from those now barricading themselves in at the Manus Island facilities.

The offer, first made in 2013, would have seen 150 refugees resettled annually in New Zealand. It was reinstated this weekend, with pressure from Papua New Guinea and the international community. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has declined the offer, saying instead that his government is pursuing a resettlement plan with the United States. The agreement with the US would see 1250 refugees resettled there, but progress has been extremely slow.

Papua New Guinea has urged Turnbull to accept the offer as the situation at the Manus Island detention centre is rapidly deteriorating.

Australia formally closed its detention centre at Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, after years of complaints of poor living conditions, violence, and human rights abuses. Refugees who tried to reach Australia by boat were sent to Manus and another offshore processing centre, Nauru, and banned from ever resettling in Australia.

The centre at Manus was officially closed on October 31st, however a group of approximately 600 men refused to leave citing safety concerns. The men are refugees, mainly from Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. They barricaded themselves inside the Manus Island facility saying that moving to other facilities on the island will put them at risk of attack from locals. The men have also raised doubts that the alternate facilities prepared by the Australian government are actually ready.

On October 31st, food, water, and electricity were cut off to the centre. Al Jazeera reported refugees digging wells within the centre to get water. Reports like these have the United Nations warning of a potential humanitarian emergency.

A spokesperson from the UN High Commission for Human Rights called on the Australian government to bring the refugees from Manus to Australia, calling Australia’s offshore detention policy “unsustainable, inhumane and contrary to its human rights obligations.”

New Zealand’s recently elected Prime Minister, Jacinda Arden, re-emphasized her country’s pledge adding, “The offer is very genuine and absolutely remains on the table.”

Turnbull has resolutely defended his decision to follow through with his US arrangement, despite delays. He argued that his government has stopped the flow of boats carrying refugees to Australia, and says that resettlement might cause an increase in human smuggling.

When asked if New Zealand would sidestep the Australian government and work with Papua New Guinea directly, Arden told Al Jazeera, “No, because the offer is still under active consideration by Australia so there is no need to do so.”

Erika Loggin