Green MP Golriz Ghahraman has hit back at National MP Stuart Smith's "baseless assertion" that Kurdish-Iranian refugee Behrouz Boochani won political favour to stay in New Zealand.
Boochani arrived in Christchurch in November with a one-month visa to attend a literacy festival. He made global headlines after vowing never to return to Manus Island that hosted an Australian detention centre he was once imprisoned in.
It's understood Boochani is still in Christchurch, and Smith is questioning "whether his political connections enabled him to enter the country", suggesting Boochani's ties to the Green Party won him favour.
But Ghahraman strongly rejected the notion, telling Newshub: "The assertions made by Mr Smith are baseless. The decision-making process by Immigration NZ is rightfully independent."
Smith, MP for Kaikōura and National's immigration spokesperson, has questioned whether Boochani truly intended to leave after a month because he told the ABC he had no intention of returning to Papua New Guinea.
Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said Boochani was not welcome there, telling Sky News Australia: "He wouldn't be permitted to come to Australia - we've been very clear about that."
New Zealand has a long-standing offer to accept 150 refugees from Manus Island and Nauru - islands Australia has used for "offshore processing" - but Australia has refused, citing concern over New Zealand being used as a backdoor to Australia.
Smith said he's seen evidence showing Immigration NZ never contacted Australian authorities to let them know Boochani had been given a visa to visit New Zealand.
"Effectively, that meant he was an excluded person from Australia," he told Magic Talk. "Our immigration rules are very clear: If you're excluded or if you've been deported from a country, you're not allowed to enter New Zealand."
But New Zealand has also signed an international convention that supports the right of people to seek asylum - and it's not yet known if that's what Boochani is doing.
Boochani told the ABC he may apply for asylum in New Zealand.
Smith said he's asked Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway for clarity, but the minister could not comment on it because of privacy reasons - and Newshub received a similar response from his office.
"The minister can't talk about Boochani for both legal and privacy reasons."
Under section 151 of the Immigration Act, confidentiality must be maintained in respect of claimants, refugees, and protected people.
Boochani has been accepted for asylum in the United States as part of a deal between the two nations to resettle refugees from Nauru and Manus Island.
Smith said Boochani "has somewhere else to go, he can go to the United States, he can go back to New Guinea, but he cannot - I believe - qualify to stay here in New Zealand".
He also criticised Lees-Galloway for his handling of immigration cases, pointing to the minister's controversial decision to grant residency to convicted drug-smuggler Karel Sroubek in 2018.
Lees-Galloway also granted residency to a 'protected person' who had six convictions for driving with excess breath alcohol plus two convictions for driving without a licence.
Smith described them as "dodgy decisions".
He said one of the "key things a government has to do is protect its borders and protect its people" and that "you could argue certainly in the case of Mr Boochani that that's been questionable".
Ghahraman, a former human rights lawyer, greeted Boochani when he arrived in New Zealand in November, and tweeted a picture with him captioned: "Thrilled and exhausted and free."
Boochani was in Christchurch to discuss his book No Friend but the Mountains. He wrote it using a smuggled smartphone, detailing his harrowing experience as a refugee on Manus Island.
Boochani painstakingly uploaded short video segments for Dutch-Iranian filmmaker Arash Kamali Sarvestani to edit into a feature-length documentary that showed audiences a glimpse behind Australia's secretive facilities.
Boochani arrived in New Zealand travelled from Papua New Guinea's capital Port Moresby where he was based ever since the Manus Island facility was shut down, after which he was imprisoned and later moved to accommodation in the city.
He fled to Australia in 2013 from Iran after he promoted Kurdish language and culture in the media, and was accused of undermining the Iranian state.
He arrived at the Australian territory of Christmas Island via people smugglers, hoping to be given asylum. But he was instead transferred to Manus Island and denied asylum because of Australia's laws against boat arrivals.