The New Zealand Government baulked at American efforts to farm out detainees it wants to release from its Cuban military prison in Guantanamo Bay.
"In 2005 and early 2006, New Zealand declined several requests from the United States to resettle Guantanamo Bay detainees as refugees in New Zealand," Department of Labour refugee services director Kevin Third said yesterday.
He was responding to questions after revelations that the Bush Administration asked Canada to accept detainees of Uyghur descent, because they were likely to be at risk if sent home.
China takes a hard line on Uyghur dissidents from the oil-rich Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, also known as East Turkestan.
Canadian reports said the 22 men were sold to the US by Pakistani bounty hunters after the September 11, 2001, attacks, but several of the Muslim men said they were fleeing Chinese persecution and had been en route to Iran and Turkey to seek refugee status. American officials pressed Ottawa on three separate occasions in late 2005, and tried again in the middle of last year, after settling five men in Albania. The remaining 17 are still being held and live in isolation for 22 hours a day.
Canada - like other countries - seemed ill at ease with taking on refugees to remedy a huge public-relations headache for the US, the Toronto Star newspaper reported.
Mr Third said the New Zealand Government accepted a quota of 750 quota refugees each year, who had been "prioritised" by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
"The UNHCR has not prioritised Guantanamo Bay detainees as a group for resettlement in New Zealand under this programme," he said yesterday.
"Prior to accepting any quota refugees, the Department of Labour considers New Zealand's capability to resettle particular groups and any support mechanisms available to assist this process."