NZ urged to take rescued Sri Lankan refugees

By Kara Segedin

Keith Locke. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Keith Locke. Photo / Mark Mitchell

New Zealand is being urged to take some refugees from among 78 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers plucked from a stricken boat.

Three weeks after being rescued, the asylum-seekers are refusing to go ashore and be processed in Indonesia.

They have expressed concerns about being shut up in camps there for years.

But Australia is reportedly negotiating with Indonesian authorities to have processing of asylum claims accelerated and resettlement fast-tracked.

People found to be genuine refugees could go to New Zealand, Canada, or Australia, an ABC television report in Australia said.

Tamils already deemed refugees would be the first to be resettled, the report said.

The boatpeople are aboard the Australian customs vessel Oceanic Viking and are refusing to disembark at an Indonesian detention centre near Tamborah Laut.

Indonesia has said the boat can stay in its waters only until Friday.

Green Party MP Keith Locke has urged Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman to break the deadlock by taking some of the refugees.

Mr Locke compared the situation to that which arose in 2001, when New Zealand took 131 of 438 asylum-seekers rescued at sea by the Norwegian freighter Tampa, which Australia then refused to let enter its waters.

"I think it's a compassionate gesture in the tradition of us taking in the Afghan refugees. It's just the same."

Mr Locke said geographic isolation was the only reason more boatpeople did not arrive on New Zealand shores.

"Also, it's part of the Anzac spirit of sharing the load."

He said the number of asylum-seekers at airports had slowed to a trickle, so New Zealand could easily take some of the Sri Lankans as part of its annual quota.

Mr Locke predicted a "double reaction" if New Zealand accepted some of the Sri Lankans: "When we did it eight years ago with the Tampa people, there was an initial suspicion, but New Zealanders became very proud of the fact that we took them in."

A spokeswoman for Dr Coleman said ministers had not been in a position to give full consideration to the issues at this stage.

"We're not prepared to comment on any requests we may have received from the Australian Government."

- NZ Herald

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