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Asylum seekers must not be political pawns

Asylum seekers must not be political pawns, says Amnesty International

The rights of asylum seekers, not political point-scoring, must be prioritised in any discussions New Zealand undertakes on Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s suggestion of a regional processing centre, says Amnesty International.

“Those engaged in this debate must remember that asylum seekers are not illegal immigrants, rather, they have a legal right to seek protection,” says Margaret Taylor, Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand’s refugee and asylum seeker spokesperson.

Both Australia and New Zealand have an obligation under international conventions to protect asylum seekers who are fleeing from violence and persecution, and who may have a genuine refugee claim.

“As Australia has found, with regard the relatively small numbers of asylum seekers who arrive by boat, over 90% have been found to be a genuine refugee.

“New Zealand too has experienced dramatically falling asylum seeker numbers in recent years which has much to do with this country’s isolation and difficulty in getting here, alongside increased barriers imposed by governments globally. It is important that New Zealand does not over-react to the unlikely scenario of boatloads of asylum seekers flooding our shores,” says Taylor.

“Those barriers are increasingly forcing asylum seekers into the hands of people smugglers and into using false documentation. People fleeing dangerous situations or persecution cannot be expected to arrive with their personal papers in order,” adds Taylor.

Amnesty International is calling for more detail surrounding Australia’s ‘regional processing centre’ proposal, and warns against any return to the former Australian policy of mandatory offshore detention, known as the ‘Pacific Solution’.

“The ‘Pacific Solution’ saw Australia shift its responsibility for processing asylum seekers to other countries where conditions were often inhumane, and services and access to lawyers and other resources needed to assess a claim inadequate. It saw asylum seekers, including children, spend years detained in a limbo of an uncertain future separated from family,” says Taylor.

New Zealand has an obligation to protect the rights of refugees and asylum seekers as a signatory to the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.

New Zealand currently accepts an annual quota of 750 refugees under a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) resettlement scheme. NZ has only fulfilled that quota four times in the last 10 years and this quota has not increased since its implementation in 1987. It was decreased from 800 to 750 in 1997.

New Zealand is one of only 16 countries to resettle refugees and per capita accepts the third highest amount after Canada and Australia.

An average of 200 asylum seekers have arrived in New Zealand annually over the past five years.

Further information about Amnesty International’s position on refugees and asylum seekers are available in the factsheets, Refugee, asylum seeker and migrant rights and Asylum seekers and refugees: Debunking the myths, downloadable from www.amnesty.org.nz/our-work/campaigning-resources#refugees


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