A proposal by Niue Premier Toke Talagi for his small Pacific nation to house asylum seekers to Australia has been rejected by the Niuean parliament.
About 1700 asylum seekers who took people-smuggling boats to Australia are being held in camps on Papua New Guinea and the Pacific island of Nauru under a deal with Canberra.
Premier Talagi raised the prospect last month that Niue should also be considered as a location for housing asylum seekers, under a punitive Australian detention policy to send them offshore, aimed at deterring dangerous sea voyages.
Talagi had said his offer for Niue to take in “vulnerable children and women from the refugees” was made from a sense of responsibility as a Pacific neighbour, and as a member of the Pacific Island Forum.
But in a pre-emptive strike by opposition MPs, a motion that Talagi’s proposal “not be considered” was overwhelmingly passed 10-3 on Wednesday, with a number of MPs and cabinet ministers abstaining in the 20-member parliament.
Niue Star editor Michael Jackson said MPs opposed to housing refugees told him they cast their vote “according to the will of the people in the village meetings”.
Opposition MP Terry Coe said he was disappointed that three cabinet ministers opposed to taking in refugees had abstained from voting as it opened the way for Talagi to raise the issue again following elections later in the year.
“For them not to cast a vote today leaves room for the premier, if he gets back in after the general election, to choose another three ministers who will most likely support this proposal when he raises it again in cabinet.”
Australia’s policy of sending those arriving by unauthorised boats to bare-bones camps on the Pacific islands appears to have stemmed the flow of asylum seekers, with numbers dramatically lower in recent months.
But it has enraged rights groups, with Amnesty International saying conditions in Papua New Guinea amount to torture and the UN refugee agency reporting that the camps fail to meet international standards of treatment.
Pacific nations hosting Australia-bound asylum seekers receive incentives in the form of foreign aid and funding for development projects, while the Australian government pays the costs of running and building the centres where the asylum seekers are kept.