Dutton could be open to NZ refugee deal

CANBERRA – Australian Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton has suggested he could be more open to a deal with New Zealand over resettling refugees when there is only a “small number of people” left on Manus Island.

Australia and the United States sealed a deal under the Obama Administration for the US to accept as many as 1250 refugees from Australian detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru.

US President Donald Trump has continued the deal despite initial protests and has so far processed 493 people through their “extreme vetting” procedures. On Monday night Home Affairs officials said the US had accepted 372 refugees from the two islands and rejected 121 people.

A Rohingya refugee died in a road incident on Manus Island last week.

Dutton repeated the government’s position to reject the New Zealand offer to resettle a small number of refugees on Thursday due to concerns it the country will become a route to settling in Australia.

“New Zealand, unlike any other country in the world, has the ability for people to go there and then to come to Australia and receive a visa on arrival,” he said.

The minister said there was “no easy decision on the table”.

“I don’t want to see anyone on Manus or Nauru … There are no other third countries who are immediately available. That’s the reality.”

Asked about the New Zealand offer he said: “maybe at some stage in the future when you are down to a small number of people, we aren’t at that stage.”

However, there are concerns in New Zealand about which refugees it would accept.

Documents obtained by Sky News suggested New Zealand would prefer to resettle refugees from Nauru — mainly family units — over the single men on Manus.

“The refugees on Manus Island currently present a higher level of risk to New Zealand’s national security than other refugee groups due to the nature of the individuals,” the NZ Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet said in the briefing notes obtained by Sky News.

The vast majority of the asylum seekers the US has rejected were from Iran.

“The Iranians are still receiving positives, but these outcomes also aren’t disproportionate to the IMA case load onshore in terms of refusal rates. We see higher refusal rates amongst that cohort onshore,” a Home Affairs official said earlier in the week.

According to officials, the US has rejected five people from Afghanistan, one from Bangladesh, One from Cameroon, 70 from Iran, six from Iraq, two from Lebanon, one from Myanmar, eight from Pakistan, 15 from Somalia, four from Sri Lanka, two from Sudan and six stateless people.

Home Affairs Secretary Michael Pezzullo said earlier in the week that the offer was “welcome” but Australia needed to address technical issues before it was taken up.

“The government’s policy on that … is: the New Zealand offer is welcome, and it’s certainly been the subject of expressions of appreciation on the part of Australian government, but unless and until that question of on-travel can be addressed and resolved — once we’re in a position to do that, it might be more possible to take up that offer,” he told a Senate Estimates hearing.