15 Feb 2018

MPs seek information on Manus refugees

From The House, 10:35 pm on 15 February 2018

A select committee has been told people smugglers will use any opportunity and public comment to get more "bums on boats".

The Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Committee was briefed by Immigration New Zealand officials on Manus Island Refugees. 

In 2013 the National Government offered to take 150 refugees from Australian run detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru but Australia declined. The offer was made again by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in November last year and again declined.

The Manus Island Detention Centre was ruled unlawful and ordered to close by the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court in 2016 but there are still hundreds of refugees on Manus Island following the centre's closure over 100 days ago.

Manus Island refugees protest at West Lorengau Haus.

Refugees protest in the unfinished West Lorengau Transit Centre, Manus Province in November 2017.  Photo: supplied

The head of Immigration New Zealand, Nigel Bickle, said people smuggling and human trafficking is the third largest criminal enterprise in the world by value.

"Smugglers will use any opportunity, and any public comment whether it's by a government, an opposition, anything that might further their cause which is about getting bums on boats basically, that's the business that they're in."

He said New Zealand is not immune from being a target destination but there are advantages to New Zealand's geographic isolation.

"The types of capabilities that smugglers need to have in terms of the types of boats, the economics of the venture is such that we are not seeing anything yet but it is why we work so closely with our partners, both Australia and others in the region to counter the constant messaging that's going from people smugglers that are looking to promote this."

Labour MP Duncan Webb said there are a range of things that entice refugees to a particular destination.

"How they'll be treated when they arrive, the refugee system, whether we're part of the UNHCR and of course the economic prosperity of the nation," he said asking how these would be weighted by people seeking refuge.

"People are fleeing terrible situations, absolutely terrible situations" answered Mr Bickle.

"You have a degree of 'yes people are looking for the economic opportunity' and some economic migration ...but there are people who are fleeing genuine persecution and for those people and this is the tragedy of this trade, they will risk their life getting on a boat."

Steve McGill from Immigration New Zealand said people will go to countries committed to protecting people from persecution.

"A pretty good signal will be signatories to the (refugee) convention, as a starting point, Countries that have committed to protecting people from persecution under the UN convention and that number's relatively small."

Mr McGill said Immigration New Zealand is aware the UNHCR is providing support and advice to the governments of Papua New Guinea and Nauru and he would want to work closely with the UN and observe the processes that have been used if New Zealand's offer to take 150 refugees was accepted.