Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

NZ should embarrass Aussies over Nauru - Andrew Little

The central pacific island of Nauru . New Zealand Herald Photograph by Kenny Rodger.
The central pacific island of Nauru . New Zealand Herald Photograph by Kenny Rodger.

John Key should "cause international embarrassment" to Australia if they do not accept an offer for New Zealand to take up to 150 people a year from offshore detention centres, Labour leader Andrew Little says.

"If the Australians aren't going to cooperate and allow New Zealand's offer to assist - which is the right thing to do - then John Key should cause international embarrassment to Australia," Little said today.

"This is a time to step up and say, in an age of world wide humanitarian crises, one that is on our doorstep, one that involves our nearest neighbour physically and diplomatically then we need to be applying a bit of a stiff arm on it and say, 'we can help.'"

Little's comments came after the release of a major report from Amnesty International, Island of Despair, concludes the detention centre is a "deliberate and systematic regime of neglect and cruelty".

The report was informed by a July visit to Nauru by Amnesty's senior crisis director, Anna Neistat, who concluded physical and sexual abuse were rife, and mental illness commonplace with both children and adults attempting suicide.

"The government of Australia has isolated vulnerable women, men and children in a remote place which they cannot leave, with the specific intention that people should suffer," Neistat said.

"People are driven to the absolute brink, largely because they're trapped on Nauru and are facing debilitating uncertainty about their future."

Latest statistics from Australia's Department of Immigration and Border Security show 410 refugees and asylum-seekers held in the Nauru detention centre, including 49 children.

In 2013, Prime Minister John Key made an offer to former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard to take up to 150 people a year from centres on Nauru and Manus Island via Australia.

That offer has never been taken up by Australia, with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull believing resettlement in New Zealand could be an incentive for asylum seekers to board boats.

In September, Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton suggested New Zealand could make a deal directly with Nauru to take refugees, but that was rejected by his New Zealand counterpart Michael Woodhouse, saying the offer was made to Australia.

The unused places were reallocated to the annual refugee quota, with recent places given to Syrian refugees, Woodhouse said.

That position was reaffirmed by Key at his regular post-Cabinet press conference yesterday.

Grant Bayldon, executive director of Amnesty International New Zealand, said there was "no moral or rational reason" why New Zealand didn't take 150 refugees immediately.

"The Australian Government has forced thousands of people to be trapped on the two remote Pacific Islands...we should resettle the 150 people as an emergency intake over and above our existing annual quota."

The Amnesty International report comes after the UN's Committee on the Rights of the Child earlier this month criticised Australia's failure to help children kept in detention-like conditions on Nauru.

The UN concluded that mental ill-health was worsened by uncertainty and poor living conditions.

Dutton has previously said the Government took any reports of abuse or self-harm on Nauru seriously and provided all necessary support, but he has said some reports are "hype".

- NZ Herald

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