Prime Minister John Key says his agreement with Julia Gillard to take 150 refugees from Australia per year could allow New Zealand to use Australian refugee processing centres – but only if there was a mass arrival.
New Zealand accepts up to 750 refugees per year, and now 150 of those will come from across the Tasman.
“That bit doesn’t change, it’s just the mix of where they might come from,” Mr Key told Firstline this morning.
If New Zealand can't cope with the number of asylum seekers arriving here, Australia could help out - but it would require a law change.
“In principal, if we had a mass arrival we could have it processed in one of these centres.”
However, Amnesty International is appalled at the idea. The centres have been criticised by NGOs globally, with Amnesty inspectors last year describing the Nauru facility as “a human rights catastrophe”.
"By striking this deal with Australia, they're endorsing the way that Australia deals with its asylum seeker issue," spokeswoman Amanda Brydon told NZ Newswire.
She said it would be preferable for a mass arrival of asylum seekers to be processed in New Zealand and the Mangere Refugee Reception Centre, which the Government is spending tens of millions of dollars upgrading, is a potential option for a processing centre.
But Mr Key said he is happy with assurances from Australia about the conditions of the centres and said the deal also means New Zealand can share Australia’s intelligence on asylum seekers.
“We are not immune from the issue of asylum seekers and the only way you can resolve that issue is to interrupt those missions as they’re being planned and that relies on a lot of good intelligence on the ground in the areas where these boats leave. The Australians have a lot more power and grunt in that area and being part of a regional solution we tap into that area.”
Australia will also take asylum seekers heading for New Zealand.
“If a boat turns up in Australian waters… claiming they want to come to New Zealand then the Australians will take them.”
But Mr Key said New Zealand will only take people who are genuine refugees.
“To qualify as part of the 150 you have to be a genuine asylum seeker.”
Mr Key admits New Zealand takes a lot less refugees than Australia, which takes up to 20,000 per year, but says there is a reason for that.
“The issue here is not so much about the number, it's ultimately about the care and the package that we put around those refugees and the family members that they bring.
“We need to resettle them and resettle them well, that includes housing and access to social support, training and education. I’d rather do that well for up to 750 than increase the number and do a poor job of that.”
3 News / NZN