11 Dec 2013

Niue offers to house Australia's asylum seekers

6:06 pm on 11 December 2013

The Niue government has approached Australia and offered the country as a site where Canberra could assess its asylum seekers for refugee status.

Australia is running several camps in Nauru housing nearly 700 people and another on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea that is holding more than one thousand.

The premier of Niue, Toke Talagi, told Don Wiseman why they made the offer.

TOKE TALAGI: We've approached the Australians as part of our responsibilities as a neighbour, as well as part of our responsibility as a member of the Pacific Island Forum, and suggested to them that they consider Niue as a processing centre for vulnerable children and women from the refugees that are going to Australia at the present moment. We appreciate the fact that we need to do some feasibility study to ensure there are capacities in place to enable us to do this. And the Australians themselves have indicated they've got to do that, as well.

DON WISEMAN: So Australia is very interested?

TT: Well, the Australians have thanked us for our expression of interest and also the support we have given them for this very difficult problem they're facing at the present time.

DW: In terms of capabilities, there's a lot of things that Niue doesn't really possess at the moment in terms of being able to do this, in terms of a number of things that have become significant problems on Nauru and they would be greater problems, I would imagine, on Niue. So you'd be looking at quite a lot of capacity development before you did such a thing.

TT: Before anything is done we need to do feasibility to determine what the requirements are and to determine whether we can meet those expectations. If we can't we'll advise the Australian government. Because we're working together with them to determine whether it's feasible or not. It's not a question of we were made an offer and therefore we're ready to take refugees tomorrow - it's not. It'll probably take one to two to three years before anything is actioned on the ground.

DW: Would you expect these people to be kept in a camp as they are in Nauru?

TT: I can't speculate on that at present, I'm sorry.

DW: There is some concern...

TT: Can I just say before you carry on that it's the principle, the support we're offering the Australians, we agree that, in fact, we need to do more work on this before we both agree or not agree. That's the essence of what has been communicated to them, and that's what I'm telling you. I can't tell you any details because there are none at the present moment.

DW: There is controversy about the camps that are in Nauru, the camp that's in Papua...

TT: I'm aware of that, but I don't know the circumstances behind that so I can't comment on that, either.

DW: And there will be, I know, controversy surrounding one on Niue because it's already being expressed on the island. I've had people tell me today that the premier is bananas.

TT: Is that Terry Coe?

DW: (Chuckles) No, it's not Terry Coe.

TT: Well, it's probably some of the other palagi friends that you have. That's fair enough. I don't have any problems with that. Everybody has got a right to express an opinion. Everybody has a right. If you believe that that represents the Niue government or the Niue people's views then by all means. If it's one person's views then I suggest perhaps you do a bit more digging.

DW: In terms of a feasibility study, is it set to go? When do you think that might be done?

TT: As I said to you, we have expressed an interest and support to the Australians. They've said 'Thank you very much and we'll get back to you'. That's where it's at at the present moment.