10 Apr 2012

Australia issues visas to asylum seekers bound for NZ

8:02 pm on 10 April 2012

The New Zealand Government is staying quiet about the possible arrival of ten asylum seekers from China.

Minister of Immigration Nathan Guy is saying only that he would be concerned about their safety on a trans Tasman crossing and is seeking more information from the Australian Government.

It is not clear when they will sail, although a refugee activist in Darwin says the Australian Government has given them four days before they face mandatory detention.

Ian Rintoul says fear of mandatory detention in Australia is just one reason for the group preferring to come to New Zealand.

"Their main concern is they think the Australian Government is too friendly with the Chinese government and may be too susceptible to political pressure to allow them to stay."

He says the asylum seekers think New Zealand has a good international reputation and would be a good place for them to find safety.

The asylum seekers say they have received refugee status from United Nations officials in Malaysia, but this cannot be confirmed.

The Australian Government has issued temporary visas to most of the group of asylum seekers.

Australian Greens comment

The Australian Green Party says the group ought to be given every opportunity to seek asylum in Australia.

South Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young says the group should be allowed to seek refuge in Australia.

But Prime Minister Julia Gillard says the group has not asked to remain in Australia and the Government will not detain them against their will.

The 10 people say they are members of the spiritual group Falun Gong and left China because they had been persecuted.

The ABC reports that members of the group say they left China at different times but met up in Malaysia.

The group, which includes three children, left Malaysia on a boat a month ago bound for New Zealand.

Their yacht was escorted into port at Darwin last Thursday, because it had mechanical problems.

Eight of the group have been given temporary visas which allow them to move around within Australia to collect supplies, before they continue with their journey, the ABC reports.

ABC reporter Iskhandar Razak says one member of the group says he may now apply for asylum in Australia.

Asylum decision would be up to NZ authorities

The asylum seekers say they have paperwork showing they were assessed by the UN office in Malaysia as being genuine refugees.

However a barrister specialising in human rights and asylum matters, Deborah Manning, says this would not mean asylum in New Zealand would be automatically granted.

Ms Manning says such documents would count in their favour but it is up to Immigration New Zealand to decide whether they should be granted asylum.

"Falun Gong practitioners are a highly persecuted group by the Chinese authorities," she said.

"If they were genuine practitioners, then under international human rights law they have the right to seek asylum and if they are at risk of serious harm then they should be entitled to protection under human rights conventions New Zealand has signed up to."

Green Party immigration spokesperson Jan Logie says the asylum seekers should be allowed to come to New Zealand, and make their case for refugee status.