AUSTRALIA’S prime minister has warned that resettling refugees in neighbouring New Zealand instead of deporting them to offshore detention centres could encourage more asylum seekers to try to reach Australia by boat.
The plight of 267 asylum seekers facing deportation from Australia to the Pacific atoll of Nauru will be discussed when Malcolm Turnbull meets John Key for annual talks in Sydney tomorrow.
Key’s government reached an agreement in 2013 with the then Australian government to resettle 150 refugees a year from Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
Key said on Monday that the offer remained open although it was never accepted by Canberra.
Australia has repeatedly defended its policy of rejecting asylum seekers, saying that it is necessary to deter them from taking dangerous trips on rickety boats.
“We recognise that the most important thing we have to do is not at any point give any encouragement or say or do anything that the people-smugglers will use for their marketing,” Turnbull told reporters.
“We have a very clear-eyed focus that ensuring our borders are secure is saving lives,” he said.
Turnbull said he would not comment on any possible change to Australia’s policy of refusing New Zealand’s offer.
Despite a court ruling that upheld the legality of imprisoning refugees offshore, medical staff, teachers, church leaders, and activists have launched a campaign – known as #LetThemStay – calling for asylum seekers to be given permission to remain.
On Sunday, campaigners from ActionAid, Amnesty International, GetUp! and Greenpeace displayed a #LetThemStay banner at an iconic harbour in Sydney.
Ming Yu Hah, a spokesperson for Amnesty’s Australia branch, told Al Jazeera that the country was at a watershed moment.
“State governments want a shift in Federal Government’s policy, as do members of the Liberal and opposition parties,” she said.
“Now we are seeing many ordinary Australians from all sectors of society calling for changes. We have had enough of the deliberate cruelty to an already traumatised people.”