New Zealand mounts pressure on Australia to accept refugee offer

  • 10/11/2017
600 refugees have barricaded themselves inside a closed-down detention centre on Manus Island.
600 refugees have barricaded themselves inside a closed-down detention centre on Manus Island. Photo credit: AAP

New Zealand is continuing to put pressure on Australia to take up an offer to accept 150 refugees from offshore detention centres.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says discussions around the offer, which was first made in 2013, had continued since her meeting with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in Sydney on Sunday.

With a growing humanitarian crisis on Manus Island, where 600 refugees have barricaded themselves inside a closed-down detention centre, there's increasing pressure on Australia to accept the offer.

Refugees and asylum seekers in the detention centre say New Zealand is their best chance, especially as fences come down and fears refugees will be attacked grow.

"Since I've left Australia we have continued to encourage Australia [to accept]," Ms Ardern said on Friday morning (NZ time) at the APEC Summit in Vietnam.

"That contact has continued since I left and I intend to talk to Prime Minister Turnbull about it as soon as I am able."

Both leaders are attending the APEC Summit in Da Nang, where they're expected to host a Remembrance Day breakfast together on Saturday morning, but will meet first at a Trans-Pacific Partnership meeting on Friday afternoon.

Ms Ardern will be seated next to Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister Peter O'Neill during Saturday's APEC Leaders' Retreat but will not be raising her offer directly with him because Australia has not rejected the offer.

Australia is favouring a deal with the US, agreed by former President Barack Obama, to take 1250 refugees and asylum seekers.

President Donald Trump has called it a "dumb deal" but his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said the US administration remains committed.

UN tells Australia to change migration laws

Australia needs to stop rejecting refugees and change its migration laws to come into line with international standards, the UN Human Rights Committee said in a report on Thursday.

The committee, which comprises 18 independent experts and monitors countries' compliance with a global human rights treaty, says Australia should come back in one year to explain what action it has taken to meet its concerns.

The United Nations has warned of a "looming humanitarian crisis" in the Manus island centre in Papua New Guinea.

The UN committee says Australia should significantly cut the period of initial mandatory detention and limit detention overall, and ensure that children are not detained except as a measure of last resort and for the shortest time possible.

"The State party should also address the conditions of detention in immigration facilities, provide adequate mental healthcare, refrain from applying force or physical restraints against migrants and ensure that all allegations of use of force against them are promptly investigated," it said.

Australia's 1958 Migration Act allows removal of an unlawful non-citizen regardless of the risk of returning them to a country where they may face death or persecution, the committee said, ignoring the principle of not sending refugees back to danger, known as "non-refoulement".

It urged Australia to ensure the principle was secured in law and adhered to.

The government could not be immediately reached for comment.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton earlier told 2GB radio he stood by the detention policy that the government says is necessary to deter asylum seekers from attempting perilous sea voyages to Australia, and that it would not back down from its evictions from Manus.

The committee was concerned about conditions in Manus island and in Nauru, citing serious safety concerns and instances of assault, sexual abuse, self-harm and suspicious deaths.

Australia should also consider closing the Christmas Island detention centre, which was too remote to ensure protection of people held there, it said.

Reuters / NZN