Pacific Islands Forum on Nauru causing headaches for NZ Prime Minister

New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister, Winston Peters Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru. Picture: PIFS/Facebook

YAREN, 05 SEPTEMBER 2018 (NEWSHUB) – Reporting on refugee situation in Nauru has been a tinderbox since before journalists even arrived on the island.

The visas required to go to the country made it clear we could only cover the Pacific Islands Forum and related events.

After some of broadcasters interviewed refugees detained on the island on Tuesday the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned journalists the Nauru government had expressed concern to them about Kiwi journalists covering the problems with refugees.

Barbara Dreaver wasn’t at the briefing where the warning was issued, having already returned to the refugee camps. She was detained soon after.

Winston Peters says the incident is in danger of overshadowing the forum.

“This was in danger of being the issue, when I’m certain that… every delegate here wants it to be on the Pacific’s future,” he says.

There are nearly 1000 refugees and asylum seekers on the island, around 100 of them children, living in conditions described to journalists as hell.

“The detention centre, it’s mean hell,” says one refugee. “Really, we were living in a mouldy, plastic tent under 50-degree heat.

“I am adult person and I feel like I want to go crazy.”

Dr Vernon Reynolds, a psychiatrist who spent time in the centres but is now banned from Nauru, says it’s a form of torture.

“These children are being abused, there’s no doubt about it, and it’s state-sanctioned, state-sponsored child abuse. There are people who would say actually this is torture, and I’m inclined to agree.”

New Zealand has had an offer on the table with Australia to take 150 refugees from Nauru for five years now. Canberra has consistently declined. The new Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, wouldn’t answer Newshub’s question about that on Tuesday.

One concern the Australians have is that if refugees were accepted into New Zealand they could use their Kiwi citizenship as a backdoor to Australia.

Peters indicated he’d change our laws to stop that happening.

“If the issue was that that was their concern that by letting them come to New Zealand they will gain rights to Australia, we can fix that up, so that’s not really a concern in my view.”

But Payne still doesn’t seem interested.

“If New Zealand wishes to make a formal approach to Australia on that matter I’m sure that they will, but our focus is on implementing our agreement with the United States.”

Regardless, Peters’ policy suggestion blindsided the Prime Minister and Immigration Minister. Jacinda Ardern has now completely ruled it out.

“Ultimately this remains an issue for Australia,” she says.

So, it seems for two days running in Nauru, the Foreign Minister has gone rogue.

More Stories