Morrison Government Finally Accepts Deal With New Zealand To Resettle Refugees

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In a major turnaround, the Morrison government has accepted New Zealand’s long-standing offer to resettle annually 150 refugees who came by boat.

The Coalition government previously refused to take up the offer, which goes back to 2013, on the ground that it could provide an incentive for people to get on boats to try to come to Australia. The government said sending refugees to New Zealand would provide a “pull factor”.

The agreement appears part of removing political “barnacles” before the May election. Shadow minister for home affairs, Kristina Keneally, said it “is just another pre-election promise to protect inner-city Liberal seats”.

The decision was announced in a joint statement by the federal Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews and New Zealand’s Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi.

Under the agreement, up to 150 refugees will be settled annually for each of three years. They will be from Australia’s regional processing cohort.

The ministers said resettlement will initially be considered for refugees who

  • are on Nauru or temporarily in Australia under the regional processing arrangements
  • meet New Zealand’s program’s requirements
  • are referred by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
  • are not engaged in other third country resettlement pathways (such as the resettlement program Australia has with the United States).

Andrews was anxious to stress the government’s tough border policy had not changed. No one who came illegally by boat would ever be allowed to settle here, she said.

“This arrangement does not apply to anyone who attempts an illegal maritime journey to Australia in the future,” she said.

“Anyone who attempts to breach our borders will be turned back or sent to Nauru.”

The government previously gave as a reason for not accepting New Zealand’s offer that the refugees once in New Zealand would be able to enter Australia by the back door.

Asked about this, sources said on Thursday that while the refugees, when they became New Zealand citizens, would be able to visit Australia, they would never be allowed to settle here.

Keneally said: “This is a humiliating backflip for Scott Morrison who claimed as recently as 2018 that New Zealand’s generous offer to resettle refugees would see people smugglers restart their evil trade”. She said the Liberals might never actually implement the deal.

The Refugee Council of Australia welcomed the agreement, saying “New Zealand’s generosity […] will make a life-changing difference to 450 of the refugees who have so far endured nine excruciating years suffering in Australia’s offshore arrangements, much of that time in locked detention”.

But several hundred people would still be left with nowhere to go, the council said.

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