PM: People smugglers will be punished
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.
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.