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Amnesty International slams Key-Gillard refugee deal

Sunday 10 Feb 2013 1:50 p.m.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key walk around Arrowtown, New Zealand (AAP)

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key walk around Arrowtown, New Zealand (AAP)

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Human rights organisation Amnesty International has condemned yesterday’s announcement by Prime Minister John Key to take on 150 refugees each year from Australian offshore detention centres.

The organisation calls the plan “extremely disappointing”, saying it does not address refugee protection and undermines a regional approach.

“Countries like New Zealand and Australia who have signed the Refugee Convention should not be purposely trying to lower their standards of protection to deter asylum seekers to seek this protection by boat, but providing that protection as required to meet their international obligations,” says Amanda Brydon, Amnesty International’s government relations manager.

Ms Brydon says the 150 refugees will still have to wait for years in Australia or in an offshore centre under the “no advantage policy”.

The deal has also been criticised by Australian politicians, with Aussie Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young saying “this isn’t a regional solution; this is a bandaid cover-up for [Australian Prime Minister] Julia Gillard for what a failure Manus Island and Nauru have been”.

“It’s not going to save lives. In fact it is going to put more lives at risk.”

The Refugee Action Coalition has added its voice to the criticism, saying it was “a pointless deal, a regional non-solution”.

“Rather than offload refugees to another Pacific neighbour, the Gillard Government should be upholding its obligation to asylum seekers to protect and process them in Australia,” says organisation spokesman Ian Rintoul.

Amnesty International says it is also disappointed the deal includes the 150 in New Zealand’s “already small quota of 750”.

“As a country that receives so few asylum seekers arriving at its borders, New Zealand should be focusing on increasing its resettlement programme,” says Ms Brydon. “In particular, with countries like Syria, Mali and Afghanistan continuing to produce record numbers of refugees, this is not the time to be taking refugees from a country like Australia.”

Ms Hanson-Young and Ms Brydon both urge the Australian and New Zealand Governments to engage with countries like Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, not just each other, to promote "a true regional approach".

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