We should keep of­fer­ing

The Timaru Herald - - COMMENT&OPINION -

repa­tri­a­tion to home coun­tries wracked by con­flict and dan­ger.

In 2001, af­ter the cargo ship MV Tampa res­cued 438 Afghan asy­lum­seek­ers from a dis­tressed fish­ing ves­sel in in­ter­na­tional waters, Clark’s Gov­ern­ment suc­cess­fully of­fered to take 150 of the Tampa refugees, as Aus­tralia strug­gled to deal with an in­creas­ing num­ber of ‘‘boat peo­ple’’ flee­ing the con­flict at home in the hope of a bet­ter fu­ture. Their will­ing­ness to en­trust their, and in many in­stances their fam­i­lies’, safety to ves­sels of ques­tion­able sea­wor­thi­ness was an in­di­ca­tion of the level of their des­per­a­tion.

Fast-for­ward 16 years and Ardern is per­sis­tently try­ing to get Aus­tralian coun­ter­part Mal­colm Turn­bull to agree to let New Zealand take 150 gen­uine refugees from Pa­pua New Guinea’s Manus Is­land, where a full-blown hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis is un­fold­ing, and Nauru. For­mer Prime Min­is­ter John Key made a sim­i­lar of­fer in Fe­bru­ary 2016, which Turn­bull re­fused on the grounds it would look like a ‘‘mar­ket­ing op­por­tu­nity’’ for the peo­plesmug­glers who have brought so many asy­lum-seek­ers Aus­tralia’s way over the last two decades.

It’s an ar­gu­ment we’ve heard be­fore, and one long ad­vanced in de­fence of Aus­tralia’s in­creas­ingly hard­line stance on asy­lum-seek­ers. It’s hard to deny it has a de­gree of va­lid­ity, es­pe­cially given it is far more eas­ily ge­o­graph­i­cally ac­ces­si­ble than New Zealand. What it ig­nores, though, is that once gen­uine asy­lum-seek­ers, des­per­ate enough to take the risk - and pos­si­bly un­aware of their po­ten­tial long-term in­car­cer­a­tion - have handed over their money to peo­plesmug­glers and made the haz­ardous trip south, they are caught in the mid­dle of a long-term strug­gle in which their hu­man rights are not top pri­or­ity.

New Zealand’s of­fer to Aus­tralia could po­ten­tially end the long-term suf­fer­ing of 150 gen­uine refugees - plainly they would be care­fully vet­ted - caught in un­re­lent­ing, grind­ing des­per­a­tion, graph­i­cally il­lus­trated by the re­fusal of so many Manus Is­land de­tainees to leave for al­ter­na­tive fa­cil­i­ties in the is­land’s main town, Loren­gau. Their ral­ly­ing call has been that they will not leave their cur­rent lo­ca­tion for any rea­son other than free­dom, de­spite the de­pri­va­tions they face.

Thus far, what we’ve heard from across the ditch is that Turn­bull would pre­fer to pur­sue a pos­si­ble deal with the United States than take up New Zealand’s of­fer, as tough as it is to see that work­ing out un­der the dis­tracted Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

In the cir­cum­stances, Ardern should keep mak­ing the of­fer at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity, in the hope that even­tu­ally Turn­bull sees sense and at least some of these be­lea­guered refugees get the chance for a new life.

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