Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has rejected a revived refugee resettlement offer from New Zealand, dashing the hopes of hundreds of men who remained barricaded inside the Manus Island processing centre.
Speaking at a joint press conference after meeting NZ PM Jacinda Ardern on Sunday, Mr Turnbull left the door open to accepting her offer to resettle 150 refugees in the future, but only after Australia’s arrangement with the Trump administration has concluded.
“We have an arrangement with the United States where a substantial number – 1250 – can, subject to the US rigours vetting, be resettled in the United States,” he said.
“We want to pursue those and conclude those arrangements and then, in the wake of that, obviously we can consider other ones.
“I want to stress: we determine which refugees come to Australia, we will not have our immigration program, our sovereignty, our borders, outsourced to people smugglers.”
Liberal MP breaks ranks on NZ offer
The government has been facing growing pressure to accept the offer in recent days, with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten saying on Friday that Mr Turnbull should honour New Zealand’s proposal and Liberal MP Kevin Andrews breaking ranks to join that call on Sunday.
Refugees at the detention centre had told The New Daily ahead of the meeting between the two leaders that New Zealand was their best hope of resettlement.
Ms Ardern said on Sunday she understood the Turnbull government had prioritised the US agreement, but described her own offer as “genuine”.
“As I have said in New Zealand, we of course do not have the circumstances that Australia is operating under, but we also cannot ignore the human face of what Australia is dealing with either,” she said.
She also confirmed that New Zealand would not attempt to strike a deal directly with the PNG government.
“We want our offer to remain on the table so we can assist as much as we are able in expediting a resolution on this issue,” she said.
Bandt labels Dutton a ‘terrorist’
The government is reluctant to resettle refugees in New Zealand because it believes that will encourage asylum seekers to again attempt to reach Australia by boat.
It wants those who are refusing to leave the Manus site to move to alternative accommodation on the island, but the men say they are afraid for their safety, and the UNHCR has questioned whether the accommodation is ready.
Australia has brokered a deal with the US, which will resettle 1250 refugees, subject to the Trump administration’s “extreme vetting”. So far, about 50 refugees have been settled under the deal.
By Sunday afternoon, about 600 refugees and asylum seekers remained at the Manus Island site, which closed on October 31 following a PNG Supreme Court decision.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights described the situation as an unfolding “humanitarian crisis”, with one refugee waiting more than four hours for Papua New Guinean authorities to take him to hospital after he collapsed with heart pain on Saturday night.
Earlier, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton accused the Greens of wanting “an incident” on Manus Island, after Melbourne MP Adam Bandt labelled Mr Dutton a “terrorist”.
“It’s quite distressing to see the Greens ramping up the tempo on Manus Island because I don’t want to see any incident there. It’s clear the Greens do,” Mr Dutton told ABC radio.