Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Government offers to take 150 refugees

Facilities at the Manus Island Regional Processing Facility. Photo / Getty
Facilities at the Manus Island Regional Processing Facility. Photo / Getty

The New Zealand Government says its offer to take 150 refugees from Australia's controversial asylum seeker centres is still on the table after the decision to close the Manus Island centre.

This week the PNG Supreme Court ruled the Manus Island centre which houses about 850 asylum seekers and refugees was illegal and PNG's Prime Minister Peter O'Neill said it would be closed and Australia would be told to make "alternative arrangements."

Australia's Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told 9 News Australia would not settle any refugees itself, but would work with PNG to either return them to their homelands or settle them in other countries. Moving the Manus Island asylum seekers to the centre in Nauru was also possible.

A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said he had not yet heard from Australia on the issue but New Zealand's offer to take 150 refugees from the centres each year was still open.

The 150 places for the 2015/16 year had since been reallocated to take Syrian refugees, in June a further 150 places would be available.

"The 150 places are a standing offer with Australia, but it is for Australia to to take up the offer if they want to," she said.

The 150 quota was agreed between Mr Key and former Australian Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard in 2013 but has never been used.

In January, a group of Nauru refugees wrote to Prime Minister John Key asking to be re-settled under the agreement but Australia's Liberal Party Government has refused to call on New Zealand saying it would be an incentive for boat people to keep trying to get to Australia if New Zealand was an option because of the open borders between the two countries. It comes from within New Zealand's annual quota of 750 refugees.

The New Zealand Government can set special allocations within that for certain refugees, as happened with Aghanistan refugees rescued by the Tampa in 2001 and some of the extra Syrian refugees last year.

Mr Woodhouse's spokeswoman said the New Zealand Government had not given any consideration to taking refugees from Manus Island off its own bat without a request from Australia. The 750 places allocated for refugees annually were decided by the UN agency for refugees, the UNHCR, rather than New Zealand picking and choosing where its refugees came from.

After closing in 2004, the Manus Island centre was re-opened in 2012 to hold asylum seekers while they were processed as refugees. It was part of a policy aimed at trying to dissuade boat people from places such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Iran trying to get to Australia, which has a policy of refusing to take refugees who tried to reach Australia by boat.

- NZ Herald

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