NZ gives 13 Sri Lankan asylum seekers a home

By Claire Trevett, Isaac Davison

Prime Minister John Key has warned New Zealand is at risk of being a target for "boat people" as the Government confirms it has agreed to take 13 of the Sri Lankan refugees on the Oceanic Viking.

The Government had previously refused to accept any of the 78 who were trying to reach Australia after fleeing their war-torn homeland.

They were picked up by Australian customs vessel Oceanic Viking in October as their boat was sinking off Indonesia.

They have been found to be genuine refugees by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Yesterday Mr Key said after talks with the UNHCR and the Australian Prime Minister that New Zealand would take the 13 recommended by the UNHCR. However, they would still have to meet New Zealand's security clearance criteria.

The problem of boat people has vexed Australian Governments for years.

Mr Key said he believed New Zealand was becoming a target, especially as the boats used by smugglers were now larger and more seaworthy.

"We need to accept the issue of boat people will not go away any time soon.

There is a risk New Zealand is being targeted and New Zealand will have to work through that. We are trying to work it through to get an overall solution."

He said last year there was an attempted voyage to New Zealand by a boat but those on board ended up in Australia instead.

The Oceanic Viking asylum seekers had refused to disembark in Indonesia, insisting that they be processed for resettlement in Australia, their original destination.

The month-long standoff ended only after Australia promised to resettle the refugees within four to 12 weeks. Most refugees in Indonesia have to wait four or five years to be resettled.

New Zealand had refused to take any of the refugees, saying it did not want to reward people who jumped the queue.

A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman said the Government supported a multilateral approach to people smuggling and boat people.

"This is an Asia-Pacific regional issue that will remain for the foreseeable future. The New Zealand Government maintains that the best approach for dealing with this wider issue is through the Bali Process, which emphasises prevention, intervention and deterrence."

Green Party immigration spokesman Keith Locke said it was a greatly appreciated humanitarian gesture, because the Tamil refugee situation was "one of the most dire in our region".

"I am sure it will enhance our country's reputation, as happened when we assisted Australia by taking 130 Afghan refugees from the Norwegian ship Tampa back in 2001."

Melbourne newspaper the Age reported that all nations initially rejected Australia's request to take people from the Oceanic Viking.

Now 28 of the ethnic Tamils will go to the United States, 13 to Canada, 13 to New Zealand, three to Norway, and the remainder to Australia.

Twelve of the asylum seekers have already been resettled in Australia, while four have failed security checks and will remain on Christmas Island.

- NZ Herald

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