Four NZ-bound boats turned back
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 Government as the refugee 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. crisis