Deputy Prime Minister Bill English has confirmed that a group of Chinese asylum seekers who had planned to travel to New Zealand have decided to seek asylum in Australia.
The group of 10, who reportedly left Malaysia last month, arrived in Darwin last Thursday and had been granted temporary Australian visas until this weekend.
Australian and New Zealand authorities had both expressed concern about the group's plans to continue on to New Zealand.
Australian media reported today that the group had left the Darwin ferry terminal where they were staying and gone to the local immigration office with sources saying they were to claim asylum there.
Mr English confirmed this afternoon that the group was in the process of seeking asylum in Australia.
"They've been advised of the practical difficulties of getting a boat from Darwin to New Zealand when they barely made it to Darwin,'' he said.
"That means New Zealand won't have any further involvement with them, but we would want to take this chance to thank the Australians for their close co-operation over this issue.''
The group have said they are Falun Gong members and could be persecuted if they are returned to China.
They face mandatory detention if they remain in Australia, a policy New Zealand does not have.
Australian Immigration Minister Chris Bowen and department officials said yesterday the group had been briefed on their options.
Mr English said the New Zealand Government did have plans in place for if asylum seekers arrived in New Zealand without going through the proper United Nations processes.
"If they turn up here without going through the proper refugee process then they're certainly trying to jump the queue on other refugees.''
Act leader John Banks said today that the group would be queue-jumping if they headed to New Zealand and should be told "don't bother''.
The Government needed to make it clear to all asylum seekers that they must follow proper process to come to New Zealand, Mr Banks said.
"New Zealand is a blessed country and we deserve the right to have our laws and processes respected,'' he said in a statement.
"Queue-jumping is also incredibly unfair on the refugees that follow the proper processes and we must respect their rights as well.''
Mr Banks said the Government needed to send a message to all would-be asylum seekers that queue-jumping was not the way it was done in in New Zealand.
"Not to do so would encourage further breaches of our laws and protocols,'' he said.
"The journey from Australia to New Zealand is fraught with danger and being upfront about our position would deter these refugees from putting their lives at risk.''
- APNZBy Amelia Romanos Email Amelia