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PM responds to asylum seekers' plight

29 August 2001 Media Statement

PM responds to asylum seekers' plight


Prime Minister Helen Clark said today that it was not clear in international law which country is responsible for admitting to its territory the asylum seekers on board the Norwegian vessel, Tampa.

She was commenting on the standoff between Australia, Norway, and Indonesia on who should accept responsibility.

Helen Clark said the New Zealand government welcomed Australia's provision of humanitarian assistance to those on board the Tampa.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has stated today that it does not know who is legally responsible for the asylum seekers on the ship.

Helen Clark was responding to media queries on what the likely New Zealand response would be in such circumstances.

Helen Clark pointed out that New Zealand had yet to experience waves of asylum seekers given its considerable distance from countries from which they might be sourced.

"This puts New Zealand in a rather different position from Australia, which has already seen several thousand boat people land on its shores in mass arrivals this year.

"Under legislation passed in 1999 the New Zealand government has the power to detain asylum seekers who arrive en masse. It is likely that New Zealand would escort a ship carrying such people into its waters, detain them, and work as quickly as possible to identify which among the asylum seekers were genuine refugees and which were not.

"These are difficult issues on which international law is relatively undeveloped. New Zealand is a signatory to, and working towards ratification of, the 2000 United Nations Convention on Transnational Organised Crime, which includes separate protocols on the international problems of people trafficking and the smuggling of migrants.

"These protocols were developed last year to encourage an international approach to these issues and they recognise that co-operation between states is a key aspect to preventing and deterring international criminal groups from participating in smuggling activities.

"New Zealand will be passing legislation providing for the smuggling and trafficking of human beings to be a criminal offence," Helen Clark said.


ENDS

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