New Zealand offers to take 150 refugees from Australia detention camp in PNG

Asylum seekers modify a man-made well at a detention centre on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea.
Asylum seekers modify a man-made well at a detention centre on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea.PHOTO: REUTERS

WELLINGTON/SYDNEY (REUTERS/AFP) -    New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she would offer to take 150 refugees held by Australia when she meets counterpart Malcolm Turnbull on Sunday (Nov 5), promising Canberra a breather from a stand-off at a Papua New Guinea detention site.

For more than three days, about 600 men have barricaded themselves inside in a camp on Manus Island, defying efforts by Australia and Papua New Guinea to shut it, despite having no food or running water.

New Zealand on Friday became the first country to publicly offer to intercede, when Arden said she would offer to take 150 refugees from Australia’s two remote Pacific detention centres at the meeting with Turnbull in Sydney.

“I expect the situation on Manus Island will be discussed in my meeting with Prime Minister Turnbull on Sunday,” Arden said in an e-mailed statement. “I intend to reaffirm our offer when we meet.”

The offer could present Turnbull with a partial solution to the Manus Island stand-off, which the United Nations this week described as an “unfolding humanitarian emergency”.

Australia has previously rejected a similar offer by former New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, citing the ability of asylum seekers to freely move to Australia after relocation.

New Zealand residents are allowed to live in Australia without visas.

But Australia’s centre-right government is pushing for tough new rules to ban any asylum seekers who arrived by boat after 2013 from ever being allowed into Australia, even as tourists.

Mounting criticism has not deterred Australia from its plan to close the Manus Island centre, where it detains asylum seekers arriving by boat, as part of its controversial immigration policy, along with another in Nauru.

Heavy rains across Papua New Guinea on Thursday helped replenish water storage bins on Manus, but food shortages worry the detainees, many of them from war-torn nations such as Afghanistan, Iran, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Syria.

They vowed not to leave, even though many are beginning to feel the ill-effects of going several days without food.

“We will never move to another prison,” said one, Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish journalist from Iran. “We will never settle for anything less than freedom. Only freedom.”