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​No New Zealand Solution for Manus Island Detainees

Political standoff over a deal between New Zealand and Australia that could help detainees at the illegal detention centre in PNG.
April 29, 2016, 7:12am

A leaked image of detainees at Manus Island. Image via

Asylum seekers at Manus Island are unlikely to find a new home in New Zealand after their detention centre was ruled illegal by Papua New Guinea, despite a deal struck a couple of years ago between the New Zealand and Australian governments that appears to offer just that.

In 2013, Julia Gillard and John Key announced a two-year agreement that New Zealand would take 150 of its 750 refugee annual quota from Australia. At the time Gillard said the refugees could come from Nauru and Papua New Guinea. The timeline is nearly up and so far no refugees have been resettled in New Zealand under the deal. The 150 places for the 2015/16 year have already been reallocated to Syrian refugees. A further 150 places will be available in June. New Zealand Minister of Immigration Michael Woodhouse said this week that the offer was still on the table but that Australia had made no approach about the Manus Island detainees. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull ruled out the idea that any of 850 men would end up in New Zealand, saying it would be seen as a "marketing opportunity" for people smugglers. Labour foreign affairs spokesman David Shearer told VICE that Australia would be reluctant to allow any Manus Island refugees to come to New Zealand because it would look from the outside like an easy route to New Zealand through Australia and expose weakness in Australia's hardline policy against boat people. Shearer said the deal between Gillard and Key was always one-sided and an affront to New Zealand's sovereignty. "It's really important that New Zealand is able to select the refugees that it wants to come to our country. It's an important part of our own sovereignty and we shouldn't be giving that right away to another country," said Shearer. The situation has echoes of the Tampa crisis that took place weeks before the Australian general election in 2001 when 438 Afghan asylum seekers were stranded on a Norwegian freighter after their boat sank north off Christmas Island. On that occasion Australia shut its borders while New Zealand welcomed 133 Afghanis, mostly young boys, granting them refugee status. This week, 29-year-old politics student Zakaria Hazarenejad made a publicstatement in support of Helen Clark's bid to be Secretary-General of the United Nations, praising her for the action she took as Prime Minister to help him and his fellow refugees. "Helen Clark's decision to accept many of the Tampa refugees was brave at a time of deep suspicion about Muslims. She showed courage and compassion and changed my life forever," Zakaria wrote in the New Zealand Herald. That's an improbable outcome for the men on Manus Island this time around. Follow Frances on Twitter.