New Zealand’s agreement to take 150 refugees from Australian detention centres is “pointless” and will just force more asylum seekers onto boats, Greens and refugee advocates say.
The deal was announced after bilateral talks between Julia Gillard and her New Zealand counterpart John Key, with the Australian prime minister casting it as a regional solution to the problem of people-smuggling.
But Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young attacked the agreement to resettle 150 refugees each year, saying “this isn’t a regional solution; this is a bandaid cover-up for Julia Gillard for what a failure Manus Island and Nauru have been”.
“This just shows what a failure Manus Island and Nauru have been,” she told reporters in Canberra.
“It’s not going to save lives, in fact it is going to put more lives at risk.
“More people will be taking dangerous boat journeys as a result of less people being resettled directly (from Malaysia and Indonesia).”
The 150 refugees taken by New Zealand would be part of its annual 750 refugee quota, and not in addition to it.
Senator Hanson-Young said instead of resettling refugees from Australia, both countries should instead beef up their ability to assess claims in Malaysia and Indonesia: “and resettle people directly from those places in much larger numbers”.
“Why wait for someone to take a dangerous boat journey, only then to consider whether they are a genuine refugee and be assessed and then resettled?” she said.
“This whole process forces people to take dangerous boat journeys rather than dealing with the bottleneck further up the line.”
The Refugee Action Coalition said the agreement with New Zealand was “a pointless deal, a regional non-solution”.
“Asylum seekers are still going to have to get on boats and get to Australia before they have any hope of protection,” spokesman Ian Rintoul said in a statement.
“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.”
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the deal with NZ would do nothing to deter people smugglers, or deal with the large number of asylum seekers currently detained in Australia.
“This arrangement of 150 people next year is the equivalent of one or two boats. It’s less than one per cent of the number of people who turned up last year,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Sydney.
“This is an arrangement that barely scratches the surface.
“Julia Gillard just keeps putting sugar on the table for people smugglers and now she is trying to put Kiwi sugar on the table as well.”