BRISBANE, 24 JANUARY 2018 (BRISBANE TIMES) — Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his New Zealand counterpart are at odds over whether New Zealand’s offer to take 150 refugees from Manus Island and Nauru has driven a rise in people-smuggling operations.


When Turnbull was asked on Tuesday whether New Zealand’s offer to take 150 refugees had pushed up the number of people smuggler boats captured by Australia’s border protection system, Turnbull appeared to confirm the claim, saying “a number of” people-smuggling boats intercepted by Australian authorities stated they were ultimately aiming to settle in New Zealand.

He said “ruthless” people smugglers had been “very busily marketing and promoting New Zealand as a destination recently”.

“New Zealand benefits from our Operation Sovereign Borders,” he said.

Former conservative New Zealand leader John Key originally made the offer to former Prime Minister Julia Gillard in 2013 and reiterated it in 2016. The same offer was repeated by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern late last year.

The Australian newspaper cited intelligence officials on Tuesday as saying the New Zealand offer had pushed up people-smuggling activity and that at least three recent boats had been trying to reach Australia through the “back door” of New Zealand.

But Ardern rejected this claim, saying: “I am advised that none of the activity that we’ve seen in recent times is unusual.”

She said that the “chatter amongst people smugglers has ebbed and flowed for many, many years”.

The disagreement came as a second group of Manus Island refugees – a planeload of 40 men mostly from Afghanistan and Pakistan – left Papua New Guinea bound for the United States under the resettlement deal with Washington.

The men left aboard a Philippine Airlines flight on Tuesday morning. They brought to 94 the total number of US-bound refugees who originally sought asylum in Australia by boat but ended up in detention camps on either Manus Island or Nauru.

The deal for the United States to accept up to 1250 refugees from Manus Island and Nauru – helping ease acute political and humanitarian concerns that have dogged Australia’s offshore detention system for years – was struck by former US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and upheld after a famously testy conversation Mr Turnbull held with President Donald Trump.

Australian government sources confirmed 40 people had left PNG. This leaves about 1500 refugees on Manus Island and Nauru.

Advocate Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition said the 40 men were mainly from Afghanistan and Pakistan, with smaller numbers from Myanmar, Bangladesh. He said he expected a further 130 people from Nauru to fly to the US around February 11 and 12.

But refugees from Iran and Somalia were not being accepted because those countries are blacklisted under US President Donald Trump’s policy banning all migration from six terrorism-prone nations, he said.

Labor leader Bill Shorten said if the New Zealand offer were a risk, the same logic would apply to the US deal.

“If you follow [Home Affairs Minister Peter] Dutton’s logic to its conclusion, the only way that you could deter people from people smuggling is keeping them indefinitely for the rest of their lives in settlements on Manus and Nauru. I don’t even think he believes that,” he said… PACNEWS [/restrict]