By FRANCESCA MOLD
A further 150 refugees rejected by Australia will arrive in New Zealand in the next two weeks after United Nations officials confirmed they were genuine refugees.
The mostly Iraqi and Afghan refugees have been held in detention centres on Manus Island, off the coast of Papua New Guinea, and Nauru for more than a year while their applications were processed.
A spokesman for the Immigration Service said the 66 new arrivals from Nauru and 84 from Manus Island would be accepted as part of New Zealand's annual quota of 750 refugees.
The exact date of the refugees' arrival was not known but they would initially be held at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement centre in South Auckland.
The Australian Government sent the refugees to the islands under its Pacific Solution policy, set up with the co-operation of its island neighbours, for dealing with refugees trying to land illegally in Australia.
So far, 1575 asylum-seekers have been processed at three offshore facilities at a cost of $121.6 million ($131.6 million) to the Australian Government. Refugee status has been granted to 745 of them. By November last year Australia had accepted 312 of the refugees processed on the islands, New Zealand had taken 202 and Sweden 14.
The Pacific Solution policy was prompted by an incident in August 2001 when Norwegian freighter the Tampa, rescued 433 illegal immigrants from a sinking boat off the Australian coast.
The Australian Government refused to allow the Tampa to travel into its waters and, after a week-long deadlock, the boat people were taken to Nauru.
New Zealand accepted 131 of the Tampa refugees in 2001. In August last year, it welcomed 10 more from the Tampa, along with 126 other asylum-seekers processed in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
National MP Murray McCully said yesterday that he was concerned that New Zealand's willingness to take refugees rejected by Australia would make this country seem like a soft touch for illegal immigrants.
He also wanted to be reassured that New Zealand was not accepting people who could have been resettled in their country of origin.
New Zealand had accepted the first group of Afghan refugees from the Tampa too quickly, Mr McCully said. Many may not have been classified as refugees once the Taleban had been overthrown in their home country.
The Australians have already sent more than 230 Afghans back to Kabul under a reintegration programme, which pays individuals $2000 to return home.
New Zealand's refugee policy needed to be reviewed urgently, Mr McCully said. National's policy was to reduce the annual intake to 500.
Herald feature: Immigration
By FRANCESCA MOLD