Refugees: Pawns On The Chessboard Of Australasia Politics?

Newly elected New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden recently offered to welcome 150 Manus Island and Nauru detainees. The offer comes in response to Australia’s decision to close the detention centres on the 31st October, rendering hundreds of refugees confused and distressed. While the Australian government has proposed alternative accommodation for the refugees, several hundred have refused to leave the premises of Manus Island, and remain without adequate resources to survive. In addition to the offer to rehouse alienated refugees, the New Zealand government has pledged to spend $3million New Zealand Dollars to offer critical services to those remaining on the islands.

Despite the offer being supported by international bodies including the United Nations, Australian Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton labelled the offer a “waste of money.” Arden has since described Australia’s response to the crisis as “unacceptable,” a sentiment shared by fellow global counterparts. Sudanese refugee Abdul Aziz Adam slammed the lack of decision making apparent within the Australian government: “Australia deny to give our fundamental rights such as water and food. They force us to starve. They want us to be resettled in Papua New Guinea where even the people of Papua New Guinea they do not want us to resettle in their country.” United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) Deputy Regional Representative Nai Jit Lam supported reservations by the refugees regarding the new available accommodation, the East Lorengau Refugee Transit Centre and the West Lorengau Haus describing them as “…still not complete…”

The lack of direction evident in the policies of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Minister Dutton reflects poorly on Australia’s consideration for the refugees on Manus Island and Nauru as human beings. Irrespective of power politics between Australia and New Zealand, Turnbull should heed Prime Minister Arden’s offer to alleviate the suffering of the remaining individuals on the island. Further, the absence of suitable alternative accommodation for the relocated refugees shows nothing less than second-class treatment of these individuals for whom the Australian government is responsible.

The Detention Centre on Manus Island was closed after the Papua New Guinean Supreme Court ruled it illegal to capture asylum seekers. However, the detainees were fearsome of violence from local Papua New Guineans opposed to their relocation. The principal motive behind Turnbull and Dutton’s prolonged response to Arden’s offer is related to repute. If permitted to enter New Zealand, and in turn become New Zealand citizens, the refugees would then legitimately enter Australia.

In the instance of hundreds of detainees suffering from a violation of basic human rights, it is imperative that the discussions between Turnbull and Arden are resolved efficiently and optimally with a positive result for the individuals suffering from a meandering debate. While any decisions made ultimately reflect on long-term Australian foreign policy, this case is unique in its torment and should be adequately handled.