PM: Peo­ple smug­glers will be pun­ished

The Press - - Politics - LAURA WAL­TERS

Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern says peo­ple smug­glers tak­ing ad­van­tage of vul­ner­a­ble asy­lum seek­ers will feel the ‘‘full force of the law’’.

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

Aus­tralia’s Courier Mail news­pa­per 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 news­pa­per re­ported.

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

Chat­ter about asy­lum seek­ers and peo­ple smug­glers set­ting their sights on New Zealand was not new, she said, adding 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.’’ she 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.’’

Ardern said she could not com­ment on sug­ges­tions the in­for­ma­tion about the 164 asy­lum seek­ers could have been a strate­gic leak by the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment, in an ef­fort to push back against New Zealand’s refugee stance.

Green Party for­eign af­fairs spokesper­son Gol­riz Ghahra­man said it was time to by­pass the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment 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.

The Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment threat­ened to forcibly re­move the de­tainees. Elec­tric­ity and wa­ter has been shut off, and a makeshift wa­ter source cre­ated by the re­main­ing men had been ‘‘com­pro­mised’’ on in­struc­tions from Aus­tralia, Ghahra­man said.

It was time for New Zealand to ‘‘ex­plore other op­tions’’, she said adding that New Zealand had an obli­ga­tion to act, as con­di­tions wors­ened and Aus­tralia ‘‘stood by’’.

Those other op­tions in­cluded by­pass­ing the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment and talk­ing di­rectly to Pa­pua New Guinea, to see whether a deal could be struck to re­home some of the refugees, she said. ‘‘Peo­ple are at break­ing point.’’ Ghahra­man said asy­lum seek­ers did not pose a threat to New Zealand, as some had sug­gested.

Those peo­ple had a right to try and es­cape tor­ture and per­se­cu­tion.

If they ar­rived in New Zealand, they should be pro­cessed in ac­cor­dance with in­ter­na­tional law, and re­set­tled if they were refugees or sent home.

Some peo­ple had raised con­cerns that New Zealand’s stance on refugees was en­cour­ag­ing asy­lum seek­ers to at­tempt the dan­ger­ous jour­ney to New Zealand by boat,

rather than aim for Aus­tralia.

Ghahra­man said they were at greater risk in their home na­tions, where some were fac­ing tor­ture and per­se­cu­tion.

‘‘If you want to keep them safe, up the refugee quota.’’

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, ac­cord­ing to Davis.

Davis said the is­sue of boat peo­ple mak­ing it to New Zealand was hy­po­thet­i­cal. The cur­rent fo­cus was on Manus Is­land.

Davis said if asy­lum seek­ers did start ar­riv­ing in New Zealand by boat, the Gov­ern­ment would have to cross that bridge when they came to it.

PHOTO: REUTERS

De­tainees stag­ing a protest inside the com­pound at the Manus Is­land de­ten­tion cen­tre in Pa­pua New Guinea. New Zealand has of­fered to take 150 of the refugees.

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