New Zealand’s offer to resettle refugees from Australia’s overseas immigration detention system remains on the table, and the imminent end of the US refugee exchange from Australia could lead to more urgent consideration by Australia. .
Jacinda Ardern’s office confirmed to The Guardian that her country’s position had not changed (the long-standing offer to accept 150 refugees from Australia’s offshore islands each year still stood), but declined to confirm whether she was on the New Zealand Prime Minister meeting agenda. with his Australian counterpart on Sunday. “We do not discuss the content of the bilaterals before they take place.”
Ardern and Scott Morrison will meet Sunday and Monday in Queenstown.
Nine years after Australia restarted offshore processing, and more than seven years since the last asylum seeker was sent abroad, 239 refugees and asylum seekers remain held within Australia’s offshore island processing regime. : 109 in Nauru and 130 in Papua New Guinea.
According to government figures, 1,223 “transients” are in Australia, brought in from offshore processing islands. This cohort could also be considered, at least by Australia, as candidates for resettlement.
Australia has repeatedly said that it would consider resettling refugees to New Zealand only after its 2016 agreement with the United States expired.
Under the Obama-era deal, condemned as “horrible” and “disgusting” but ultimately honored by his successor, Donald Trump, the United States agreed to receive up to 1,250 refugees from Australia’s offshore system, in exchange for Australia accepting refugees from the ” Northern Triangle ”of Central America in camps administered by the United States.
So far, the United States has resettled 936 refugees from Australia, and another 258 have been provisionally accepted. That would bring the number of resettled in the United States to 1,194, close to the limit of the agreement.
US sources with knowledge of the program say that despite the Biden administration increasing the size of its refugee resettlement program by 2021, there will be no additional places for refugees in Australia.
In October 2020, Australian Department of Home Affairs Secretary Mike Pezzullo confirmed in a Senate estimates hearing that Australia would consider New Zealand’s resettlement offer, to accept 150 refugees from the high seas each year, once the agreement with the United States is terminated.
“The Australian government is grateful for that offer from the New Zealand government … it is an offer that remains under active consideration.”
Interior Undersecretary Marc Ablong told the Senate: “We are nearing the end of the program. The United States agreed to take a certain number and we are beginning to reach that number. “
Craig Foster and Sonny Bill Williams, in collaboration with Amnesty International, said that many refugees are at risk of being left behind at the end of the US resettlement agreement.
“By accepting this offer, the torment they have endured for nearly eight years could finally and with mercy end,” said Foster, a former Socceroo and spokesman for the Game Over campaign.
Williams, a former All Black from New Zealand, said the policy should be set aside in favor of a humanitarian solution.
“New Zealand has a long and proud history of hosting refugees, and they have been offering this solution since 2013. It is time to embrace it and let people rebuild their lives.”
Australia had previously said that it was reluctant to allow refugees to resettle in New Zealand because, after five years, they would be able to claim citizenship and be eligible for unrestricted travel to Australia – a position belied by the fact that Australia regularly prevents allow some New Zealand citizens to enter Australia.
The last time Australia ran a detention program on the high seas, between 2001 and 2007, several hundred refugees were eventually resettled in New Zealand.
And at least one high-profile refugee from Australia’s most recent high seas detention regime has already resettled in New Zealand. Journalist and author Behrouz Boochani flew to New Zealand in 2019 to speak at a literary festival in Christchurch – he was granted asylum.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism