Four NZ-bound­boats turned back

Nelson Mail - - NEWS - LAURA WALTERS

Peo­ple smug­glers tak­ing ad­van­tage of vul­ner­a­ble asy­lum seek­ers will feel the ‘‘full force of the law’’, Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern said yes­ter­day.

As the stand-off be­tween Aus­tralia and New Zealand con­tin­ues in re­la­tion to the sit­u­a­tion at the Aus­tralian-run Manus Is­land de­ten­tion cen­tre in Pa­pua New Guinea, four boats full of asy­lum seek­ers headed to New Zealand have been in­ter­cepted.

Bris­bane’s Courier Mail has re­ported the boats, con­tain­ing 164 peo­ple, en route to New Zealand were stopped by Op­er­a­tion Sov­er­eign Board­ers and turned around. The peo­ple were be­ing smug­gled by crime syn­di­cates, try­ing to by­pass Aus­tralia’s tough im­mi­gra­tion mea­sures, in a bid to profit from the ris­ing ten­sion over the cur­rent cri­sis on Manus Is­land.

The in­ter­cep­tion came af­ter Ardern re­newed the Govern­ment’s of­fer to take 150 asy­lum seek­ers from Nauru and Manus Is­land dur­ing her first meet­ing with Aus­tralian Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull early this month.

Turn­bull turned down Ardern’s of­fer, say­ing he would give pri­or­ity to a po­ten­tial deal with the United States.

But Ardern was putting fur­ther pres­sure on the Aus­tralian Govern­ment by rais­ing the is­sue again when they met dur­ing the East Asia Sum­mit (EAS) in the Philip­pines. She said her of­fi­cials were now in dis­cus­sion with an Aus­tralian of­fi­cial, while the lead­ers con­ducted other busi­ness.

Chat­ter about asy­lum seek­ers and peo­ple smug­glers set­ting their sights on New Zealand was not new, she said, adding that there have been on­go­ing at­tempts by boat peo­ple to make it to Aus­tralia, and ru­moured at­tempts of peo­ple try­ing to make it to New Zealand.

‘‘We have been In­volved for a num­ber of years, as a coun­try work­ing along­side Aus­tralia in try­ing to stop peo­ple at the source from risk­ing their lives and try­ing to make that jour­ney and we will con­tinue to do so. New Zealand’s pol­icy in that re­gard has not changed,’’ Ardern said.

‘‘Nor has the mes­sage that the full force of the law will come down on any­one who tries to take ad­van­tage of vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple by risk­ing their lives by hav­ing them board boats to Aus­tralia or New Zealand.’’

Mean­while, Green Party for­eign af­fairs spokesper­son Gol­riz Ghahra­man said it was time to by­pass the Aus­tralian Gov- ern­ment as the refugee cri­sis reaches break­ing point.

The sit­u­a­tion on Manus Is­land, where 600 refugees have re­fused to leave the now moth­balled de­ten­tion cen­tre, had reached ‘‘cri­sis point’’, and New Zealand had an obli­ga­tion to act, she said.

The cen­tre was shut down by Aus­tralia, with the plan to move the de­tainees to the nearby Loren­gau com­mu­nity. But the men said the con­di­tions at their des­ti­na­tion was worse than those in the de­ten­tion cen­tre, where six have died.

While the Green Party said it was time to by­pass Aus­tralia, act­ing Prime Min­is­ter Kelvin Davis said yes­ter­day New Zealand’s of­fer was to the Aus­tralian Govern­ment. Un­like its sup­port party, Labour had no in­ten­tion of by­pass­ing Aus­tralia at this stage, he said.

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