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The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Grant Bayldon

On The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Grant Bayldon

Grant Bayldon, executive director of Amnesty International NZ says this country should take at least the 150 refugees we’ve offered to take from Manus Island, and we could take more. “There’s certainly potential for that. New Zealand has taken emergency refugees over and above the quota in the past.”

Bayldon also says the government should do everything it can to take the refugees, including talking to Papua New Guinea directly, rather than dealing just with Australia.

Bayldon says climate change refugees do not come under the internationally recognised criteria of refugees, but we need to look after people suffering because of climate change. He says any climate change refugees would have to be on top of our regular refugee quota.

Lisa Owen: Amnesty International has been calling for New Zealand and other countries to resettle all of the men from Manus. Grant Bayldon from Amnesty International joins me in the studio now. There have been serious allegations this week that some of the refugees on Manus Island have been sexually assaulting under-age girls. You’ve had observers on Manus at various points. What do you know about this?
Grant Bayldon: The allegations that have come out are exactly that – they are allegations that a small number of people have been engaged in criminal activity. Now, of course, that is very concerning and should absolutely be investigated. But what we need to remember is that it hasn’t been investigated. So the leak that came out from the Australian Government said that locals had made claims, that no complaint had been made to police in that instance. So I think what is important to remember is that everyone deserves to be treated as innocent until found otherwise, and that they need to be investigated properly.
But were you aware about these allegations swirling around? It’s a small place and, yes, the leak has come this week, but did you know anything about this behaviour before that?
Our investigators have been in Manus over the last couple of weeks and talked to various members of the community, community leaders, and no one raised these allegations.
So you have been supporting the resettlement of these men not knowing that potentially some of them are accused of serious sex crimes.
I think you have to say here that the accusations are just that they’ve been mentioned in diplomatic cables. But what’s really important to remember is that if people were resettled in New Zealand, that would be people who were deemed to be genuine refugees, and for that you have to have a well-founded fear of persecution or war, and they’d be subject to rigorous screening. And that’s not only of their refugee status but also of their character and suitability to be resettled in New Zealand. And there’s various layers of that. So that starts with the actual status determination that the overwhelming majority of them have already had, that they are genuine refugees. And then, of course, it also includes security screening by the New Zealand Government, which includes site visits, interviews. So all of that would be taken into account.
But you’re Amnesty International, so you’re concerned about everybody’s rights. And presumably if there are victims who are sexually assaulted under the age of 16, you will be worried about that.
Absolutely. Yes, yes. We absolutely are, and that’s why we are saying that needs to be properly investigated.
Are you guys going to look into it?
That’s a matter for the police there. Amnesty International doesn’t have a criminal investigation wing.
No, but you have, I suppose, an ethical wing and a moral wing. Are you going to check out some of this information in any way?
We’ve already said it needs to be investigated and that the local police are the right people to do that. We’re not the right people to investigate that. In all these kinds of cases, we’d say it needs a robust local investigation. But you need to remember that across Manus and Nauru, that’s over 2000 people. That’s the size of a lot of small New Zealand towns. Kaikoura is about that population. You will always find that there are some people who may be breaking the law. That doesn’t mean that you can paint everyone in that same light. You’ve got professionals, you’ve got journalists, engineers, tradespeople. You’ve got a lot of men on Manus; some of the men have families – wives, children in Australia who they’ve been separated from.
So you accept, on the law of averages, there’s potentially bad apples amongst this group?
We would never say that everyone there is an absolute angel, of course. And that’s why screening is really important. And that’s the New Zealand Government’s right and obligation to do that well, and we see that they do do that well.
What do you think about the timing of that leaked information?
I think you need to be very suspicious of it, and that’s based on past evidence. So if you go back to the attacks back in April or May, when drunken soldiers went on rampages, fired 100 shots into the detention centre, attacked detainees, the Australian Government at the time put out outrageous allegations about what had led to that that turned out to be completely unfounded afterwards.
So do you think they’re playing politics with this?
I don’t know, but it raises that question.
What would you suspect?
Well, it just raises that question in my mind. The Australian detention of the men on Manus has been going on for four and a half years. It’s a legal and international law. People are in very stressful situations there. It’s not really on from the Australian Government to keep quiet and then suddenly, when it comes to this point, bring up allegations that are quite old and that the men have had no opportunity to defend.
So do you still think we should take 150?
Absolutely, yes. If New Zealand and other countries can help, then they should do that.
Is that enough, 150?
We’d like to see more because it’s an absolute crisis situation.
So how many more should New Zealand realistically take?
That’s really a matter for the New Zealand Government. What Amnesty International is saying is there should be the potential for New Zealand to demonstrate its values here, to show that we’re prepared to help people out. And we have a very good refugee programme that they would be part of here.
But more than 150 you think is realistic?
There’s certainly the potential for that. New Zealand has taken emergency refugees over and above the quota in the past.
The thing is, really Australia is digging its toes in. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has said that our three million dollar donation is a waste of money – that’s his words – and he doesn’t want any of these men getting the false hope that they will ever be allowed to resettle in New Zealand. That sounds pretty categorical to me. So with Australia not budging, is it time for us to start talking to PNG directly?
What we’ve got to be aware of is that things have moved. We’re getting some mixed signals from the Australian Government. Peter Dutton, immigration minister, clearly very hard line on this issue and a lot of bluster going on from him. The prime minister, Turnbull, has indicated a little more willingness to look at this in some of his comments. And that’s something that has moved. The key question is the US deal and where that’s up to. And it’s very hard to know for us, from the outside, exactly what the realities are. It’s a year now since that was first negotiated. 50 men have been resettled.
But my point would be that the clock is ticking down. These guys have been without proper supplies for a number of weeks now, and there’s reports that their shelters are being destroyed and the water they have is being taken away. There’s also the issue of medication and ongoing mental health. So the clock is ticking. Are you suggesting we just keep waiting or should we go to PNG? What’s your call?
The absolute immediate need is for supplies to get in – for medicines, for water, for food to get in. The Australian Government and PNG are clearly responsible for that. Even if New Zealand agreed to take people, it would take longer than the water supplies that are there, to get them here.
So don’t go to PNG at the moment? Don’t back-door it yet?
No, no, we’re not saying that, but we’re saying that the New Zealand Government needs to be very strategic in the way that it approaches this. So there’s the US deal in play; is that realistic? It needs to be using its channels to promote those. There’s no reason that the New Zealand Government can’t go to PNG directly.
Should they? That’s what I’m asking you. Should they, at this point, go to PNG directly?
Yeah, they should absolutely be doing whatever they can, including talking to PNG, to try and find a resolution for this, not only about permanent resettlement but also about emergency needs. That offer from the New Zealand Government to provide financial support for the immediate needs of the men would effectively be run through the PNG Government. It’s got to happen in PNG itself. So they are already talking to PNG on that, and that’s really positive.
We’re almost out of time, but the prime minister says she’s looking at how we can accommodate climate-change refugees. A couple of things there – do you think the law should change around refugees to consider environmental factors as well as persecution in their home countries?
So, as you know, the refugee definition at the moment doesn’t include climate change. You need a well-founded fear of persecution or war. At the moment, countries really aren’t stepping up on basic refugee protections for people who meet the current criteria. So the difficulty is if the criteria is widened out, that that’s going to be an even bigger challenge. That’s not a reason to do nothing. Outside of the refugee system, countries absolutely have an obligation to look after people who mostly have had very little to do with causing climate change. For New Zealand, we’re right here in the Pacific. This is our home, this is our area, and this is an issue that’s affecting our closest neighbours, so yes, we absolutely welcome New Zealand taking a positive stand on displacement resettlement.
We’re out of time. Quick answer. Should it be included in the 1500 quota that this government is aiming for or should it be on top of?
It should absolutely be over and above.
Thank you so much, Grant Bayldon, for joining us.

Transcript provided by Able.

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