Low risk of peo­ple smug­gling

Taranaki Daily News - - News - LAURA WAL­TERS

Peo­ple smug­gling is the third largest crim­i­nal en­ter­prise in the world by value af­ter drugs and guns.

Im­mi­gra­tion NZ head Nigel Bickle

Po­lit­i­cal rhetoric and com­ments about Aus­tralia’s refugee sit­u­a­tion on Manus Is­land have not in­creased the risk of peo­ple smug­glers tar­get­ing New Zealand, Im­mi­gra­tion NZ in­for­ma­tion shows.

Trans-Tas­man ten­sions have been ris­ing over the sit­u­a­tion of asy­lum seek­ers on Aus­tralia’s de­com­mis­sioned off­shore pro­cess­ing sta­tion in Pa­pua New Guinea.

In 2013, for­mer prime min­is­ter Sir John Key made an of­fer to the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment to take up to 150 refugees as part of our an­nual refugee quota.

The of­fer was re­fused, but re­mained on the ta­ble, and when Jacinda Ardern be­came prime min­is­ter last year, she re­con­firmed the of­fer to Mal­colm Turn­bull’s gov­ern­ment.

Again, Aus­tralia re­fused the of­fer, say­ing it would give pri­or­ity to a refugee deal with the United States, but Ardern pushed the point, en­cour­ag­ing Aus­tralia to take New Zealand up on the deal.

This led to Aus­tralian of­fi­cials leak­ing in­for­ma­tion to the me­dia say­ing it had stopped peo­ple smug­gling op­er­a­tions aim­ing to get peo­ple to New Zealand.

This was seen as a play by the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment to re­mind New Zealand of the geo­graph­i­cal pro­tec­tion it en­joyed, partly thanks to Aus­tralia. How­ever, Ardern said it was more im­por­tant to do what was right than what was pop­u­lar, and she did not back down on her po­si­tion.

There had also been spec­u­la­tion, partly fu­elled by the Aus­tralian in­tel­li­gence leaks, that the pro-refugee state­ments by Ardern and other Kiwi politi­cians would lead to height­ened peo­ple smug­gling ac­tiv­ity.

Im­mi­gra­tion NZ head Nigel Bickle yes­ter­day told the par­lia­men­tary for­eign af­fairs se­lect com­mit­tee that peo­ple smug­glers would use any public com­ments or po­lit­i­cal com­ments to fur­ther their cause, ‘‘which is get­ting bums on boats, ba­si­cally’’.

How­ever, peo­ple smug­gling ac­tiv­ity, and the risk of asy­lum seek­ers try­ing to get to New Zealand by boat, had not in­creased in the past year, or as a re­sult of re­cent po­lit­i­cal state­ments.

New Zealand was not im­mune to be­ing a tar­get for peo­ple smug­glers but the risk re­mained low, Bickle said.

Peo­ple smug­gling was the third largest crim­i­nal en­ter­prise in the world by value af­ter drugs and guns.

Im­mi­gra­tion NZ worked with part­ner coun­tries, in­clud­ing Aus­tralia, as part of the Bali Process, which 48 mem­bers had signed up to. This work in­cluded us­ing so­cial me­dia, and get­ting in­for­ma­tion into coun­tries of ori­gin, to fight peo­ple smug­gling pro­pa­ganda, he said.

While Aus­tralia had given no in­di­ca­tion it would take up New Zealand’s of­fer to take refugees from Manus Is­land or Nauru, Im­mi­gra­tion NZ had a plan for the process it would need to carry out to screen and ver­ify who was el­i­gi­ble to come to New Zealand as a refugee.

The agency’s gen­eral man­ager, Steve McGill, said all refugees who came to New Zealand had to be United Na­tions High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees (UNHCR) man­dated.

While Pa­pua New Guinea was a sig­na­tory to the UN refugee con­ven­tion and had given refugee sta­tus to about two-thirds of the 400 asy­lum seek­ers on Manus, New Zealand would have to check Pa­pua New Guinea’s process and run its own screen­ing, which would in­clude on-the-ground in­ter­views, check­ing health, char­ac­ter, and gath­er­ing bio­met­ric data.

A process like that was not un­prece­dented – thanks to the Tampa refugees who came to New Zealand in 2001 – how­ever, it was un­usual.

Bickle said each coun­try had sov­er­eign con­trol over its borders, and if New Zealand did end up tak­ing any of the Manus Is­land or Nauru refugees, Aus­tralia would have the right and the ca­pa­bil­ity to ini­ti­ate a bor­der screen­ing process that could stop those refugees from en­ter­ing Aus­tralia ‘‘through the back door’’.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.