17 Feb 2022

Australia indicates progress on NZ taking refugees issue but Aotearoa stays quiet

3:27 pm on 17 February 2022

The New Zealand government is staying mum about whether any significant progress has been made towards Australia accepting the long standing offer to take 150 refugees each year from offshore detention centres, saying only "negotiations on this matter have not concluded".

Manus Island detainees and security.

Australia's offshore detention centre on Manus Island. Photo: Supplied

Australian Home Affairs secretary Mike Pezzullo told a senate committee hearing on Monday "the matter would go back for a final round of negotiations" over coming weeks.

He agreed with the characterisation there was an "in principle" deal, but warned there were still concerns about it becoming a "back-door" into Australia.

"Were certain conditions to be met, the advice has been, and government has indeed not only taken that advice but publicly expressed it in these terms, that, subject to a number of conditions Australia would want to see fulfilled, it is an offer that is both welcomed and appreciated," he told the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee.

"There's been ministerial-level engagement and then they delegate to officials to then hammer out - or, sorry - deal with technical questions that they've raised ... then we both keep our ministers informed.

"The final set of those negotiations is expected in the next few weeks, on the New Zealand side, as to where their position lies."

New Zealand's Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said there were a "few details" still to be sorted out, when questioned at Parliament this afternoon.

"We're not there yet," he told reporters,"it depends on where Australia gets to, with the UNHCR process, that's an issue for them."

A bottom line for New Zealand was that anyone entering would have to go through that process, he said, "as do the refugees who come through our annual quota".

Australia had to consider where people were, and whether the refugee agency would be happy to have them as part of the quota, Faafoi said.

Amnesty Australia said there were still 104 people on Papua New Guinea and 112 on Nauru.

There were also 1174 people living in the community who were brought back to Australia for medical reasons; half in Community Detention with the rest on six-month Bridging visas.

When asked about Australian concerns about refugees gaining "back door" access to Australia, Faafoi said that wasn't "the issue".

"That is their decision at the end of the day, they decide who gets to go into Australia; we have expressed to them that we are not happy with that, but the offer has been open for some time now, and New Zealand will take 150 refugees if they requested it. There are some bottom lines on that for us."

A government spokesperson in New Zealand said it had been made clear to Australia any agreement would need Cabinet approval, with negotiations continuing at "relevant officials levels", including with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration.

"We have stated publicly that we would want any arrangement to involve the UNHCR to help assess who should be part of New Zealand's intake, and any refugees considered by New Zealand for resettlement would undergo comprehensive assessment and screening processes as happens with all refugees accepted under New Zealand's Refugee Quota Programme," the spokesperson said.

A Minister of Foreign Affairs spokesperson confirmed there was no deal before the New Zealand Cabinet.

The offer has been on the table since 2013 but has been repeatedly rebuffed by Australia.

Faafoi confirmed last June talks over the long-standing offer had resumed.

The offer was first made by National Prime Minister John Key government to his Australian counterpart Julia Gillard, and has since been re-iterated by both Bill English and Jacinda Ardern.

"The prime minister of New Zealand advised that New Zealand will work closely with Australia to annually resettle 150 refugees who have arrived irregularly in Australia by boat to seek asylum, as part of a regional approach to irregular migration," the original agreement read.

"The arrangement will be within New Zealand's Refugee Quota Programme and operate so that irregular maritime arrivals gain no advantage through choosing irregular migration pathways."

Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand executive director Meg de Ronde welcomed the latest news as "a very long and hard-earned human rights win".

"We're relieved that for hundreds of people, the torture is nearly over and soon they will get to begin rebuilding their lives."

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