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NZ misses the boat on asylum seeker issue

10 April 2013

For immediate release

New Zealand misses the boat on asylum seeker issue

Amnesty International is concerned that the real issues in the New Zealand asylum seeker debate are not being addressed.

This concern follows some of the public statements made following the arrival of 66 Sri Lankan people seeking refuge in NZ who landed in Western Australia yesterday.

“It’s one boat, it’s a very long way from New Zealand shores and even if a boat did arrive we’re not going to see our country suddenly overrun by a flood of refugees,” said Amnesty International's Executive Director Grant Bayldon.

“We need to remember the real issues here. Their requests to come to New Zealand highlights Australia’s appalling and inhumane treatment of asylum seekers. New Zealand needs to play a genuine role in addressing refugee protection in the region if it is to maintain its good reputation for treating asylum seekers with dignity and respect.

New Zealand signed up to the United Nations Refugee Convention for a reason – because offering protection for people facing extreme persecution or who have fled for their lives is the decent thing to do. This arrival, not even halfway to New Zealand, doesn’t change anything.

What we should be talking about is the violent and terrifying situations that are forcing people to make such a dangerous boat journey in the first place. We need to be thinking about what options actually exist for these people.”

The human rights situation in Sri Lanka since the war there ended is still disastrous for many people: enforced disappearances, torture and killings are rife.

New Zealand needs to lead by example and ensure it does not breach its obligations to provide genuine protection to those who need it.

“New Zealand should be part of a solution rather than the problem, and to do that it needs to engage meaningfully with other countries in the region to encourage them to sign up to the Refugee Convention and provide asylum seekers with a viable alternative to getting on the boats,” said Grant Bayldon.

“We live in a region with the highest number of refugees in the world and lowest proportion of countries who have signed the Refugee Convention.”

New Zealand should be sending a clear message that it’s committed to expanding the limited options available for asylum seekers.

“Nobody would choose the risky boat journey if they felt there was a better, safer way for them,” adds Bayldon.

New Zealand can be part of a genuine solution to refugee protection in the region by increasing its currently small refugee resettlement programme and working with other countries to improve levels of protection and safety.


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