Australia immigration minister’s exit could present opportunity for refugees detained in the Pacific

WELLLINGTON, 23 AUGUST 2018 (STUFF NZ) – New Zealand Green Party MP Golriz Ghahraman says Peter Dutton’s move to Australia’s back bench could present an opportunity for the refugees detained in the Pacific.

Dutton resigned as immigration minister following a failed leadership coup against Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday.

The hardline politician was responsible for policing Australia’s borders and enforcing the country’s ‘turn back the boats’ policy, which saw asylum seekers sent to offshore processing centres on the tiny Pacific Island of Nauru, and Papua New Guinea’s Nauru.

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman, who came to NZ as a refugee, says Australia’s leadership stoush could present a silver lining for refugees detained on Nauru and Manus Island.

He was also scathing of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s repeated offer to resettle up to 150 refugees from Nauru and/or Manus, 119 of which are children.

Dutton said New Zealand benefited from Australia’s policies and geographical position, and offers of resettlement would be used as marketing material by people smugglers.

Australia has repeatedly turned down the offer, to prioritise a deal with the United States. But more than five years on from the initiation of the policy, refugees remain in harsh conditions, and US resettlement is not an option for many due to President Donald Trump’s travel ban.

Ghahraman – a refugee who arrived in New Zealand from Iran, aged nine – said Dutton’s move to the back bench should reopen a conversation about refugees coming to New Zealand.

“Australia has a unique opportunity now that Peter Dutton has moved to the backbench,” she said.

There were 119 children on Nauru who were “languishing in despair”.

“Every day spent in detention is another day robbed of their childhood and a safe and nurturing environment.”

Earlier this week, World Vision made a plea to Ardern to push for the resettlement of the children detained on Nauru, and their immediate families.

“These children and their families are victims of a detention policy described by Amnesty International as amounting to torture, and which the UN considers unlawful,” Ghahraman said.

“In fact every person suffering persecution or war has a right to seek asylum.”

“The damage being done those children and their families who need help is despicable and New Zealand is willing to offer a place to call home”.

The Green MP called on Treasurer Scott Morrison, who was temporarily holding the immigration portfolio, to reconsider New Zealand’s offer to resettle the refugees.

Gharaman said she expected Ardern to reaffirm New Zealand’s resettlement offer during her time in Nauru at the Pacific Islands Forum meeting, “to place New Zealand on the right side of history on one of the gravest deliberate human rights abuses happening right here in our Pacific neighbourhood”.

However, Australia’s hardline stance on asylum seekers and people smuggling did not come about because of a single minister.

In the case of Australia’s approach to deporting Kiwi expats, Peter Dutton was a product of hardline attitudes across the Tasman – not the reason for them, writes Tracy Watkins. This also rings true on the issue of asylum seekers.

On Monday, Ardern said she would raise the issue while in Nauru early next month, but unless Australia or Nauru changed their position, her hands were tied.

“As far as I’m concerned, we have made our position abundantly clear. New Zealand is here and willing to help. We’ve made the offer both to Australia and directly to Nauru. Really it’s beyond our own capacity to deliver on it.”

Ardern said she wasn’t sure whether she would be able to visit a detention centre while in Nauru.

“I have a hope, and expectation at least, that I will at least be given an opportunity to be exposed to some of the issues around refugees on the island.”

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Winston Peters – who is in Australia this week – said “constantly repeating [the resettlement offers] is not going to change the facts,” he said.

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