Australia and NZ refugee talks still futile as world marks World Refugee Day

As the world marks World Refugee Day 2021, Australia and New Zealand continue to wallow in talks around the offer to take 150 refugees a year from Australia's detention centres, an offer that has been on the table since 2013. 

Jacinda Ardern and Scott Morrison. Source: Getty

A recent push by the likes of Behrouz Boochani and Sonny Bill Williams during Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison's May visit to New Zealand saw politicians questioned about the offer. 

Earlier this month, Australia's Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews told radio station 4BC they were working with New Zealand to possibly resettle the remaining people who had been evacuated from offshore detention for medical purposes. 

She said there was a couple of hundred people and "we're doing all that we can to work through resettlement options for them".

"We clearly want to do that as soon as we possibly can. So we'll continue to work with New Zealand and of course, with the United States."

"We've made it very clear with New Zealand that there won't be a back doorway for these people to go to New Zealand and then return to Australia," Andrews said. "We're working through those issues now and we'll continue to do so. And, of course, we will continue to work with the United States about resettlement options there as well."

When asked on Friday for an update on talks with Australia, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said "at official level, those conversations have never really stopped".

Earlier this month, Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi confirmed ongoing discussions with trans-Tasman counterparts, however no announcements have been made since. 

"Discussions are continuing with regards to New Zealand’s offer, with officials exploring how resettlement might be undertaken and understanding that resettlement would undergo the same comprehensive assessment and screening that New Zealand applies to all refugees accepted under the UN refugee quote programme," he said. 

Australia's Department of Home Affairs told 1 NEWS on June 1 that "Government Ministers and officials regularly engage on a range of immigration, border and national security issues, including New Zealand’s resettlement offer".

"Australia is currently focused on completing the US resettlement arrangement."

Various reasons have been given for Australia to not take up the offer, including that some people may use New Zealand as a 'backdoor' to get into Australia, with New Zealand previously not willing to place additional rules on refugees with former deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters saying it could create two-tier of citizenship. 

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Boochani wrote a book about the abuse on Manus Island, before being granted refugee status in New Zealand. Source: 1 NEWS

Another reason was there is currently a deal with the US to take 1250 refugees from offshore centres that has been in place since 2016. 

In 2017, the deal was at the centre of a high-profile spat between then-President Trump and then Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull, with Trump reportedly hanging up on the Australian PM and calling it a "dumb deal". 

The Guardian reported that despite this, so far, 1194 people had been resettled from offshore detention, with Australian officials saying New Zealand's offer may be considered once the US deal was done. 

Amnesty Aotearoa's Lisa Woods said last week that news that talks were underway was "significant progress". 

"We're optimistic and hopeful and definitely see it as significant. People have been in limbo for years and years and it needs to be treated with utmost urgency."

She said in order to prevent people from floundering in "political wilderness", both Governments needed to keep the conversation moving.  

"The people we are talking about have experienced pretty intense pain and suffering and are just seeking a home."

The Manus Island detention centre closed due to a court order in 2017, with many of those held put in other facilities on Nauru or Papua New Guinea. 

A UN working group continually condemned Australia's offshore detention programmes in 2018, with a UN Human Rights review seeing more than 40 countries question the policy and the lack of a time limit for those held. 

New Zealand's refugee programme

Due to Covid-19, there were more than 1000 refugees who never made it to New Zealand, half of them estimated to be children. 

The Government has reinstated the refugee programme, but it won’t come close to meeting the refugee quota of 1500. 

Faafoi said today by the end of this intake year, the country would have welcomed 212 refugees.

He said over the next financial year (July 1, 2021-June 30, 2022) the Government will aim to resettle up to 1000 refugees.