The Refugee Council of New Zealand is opposed to the announced intention of the New Zealand Government to participate in the Australian plan to hold asylum seekers and boat people in regional detention centres in East Timor.
RCNZ believes that New Zealand should take its own independent course in a policy based on humanitarian principles, and not follow the present direction of the Australian government. Australia has quite different asylum issues which are presently bound up in domestic politics related to their own upcoming elections.
There is scepticism regarding the statement made by the Prime Minister that remote New Zealand could be somehow be at risk for encountering a possible flood of boat people across the formidable Tasman Sea. Such a prospect seems highly unlikely. Even if a boat actually did ever reach our shores, then the East Timor solution would not be the best option.
We are also concerned about the appalling conditions in existing Australian asylum detention centres such as Christmas Island and believe that no New Zealand taxpayer funding should be applied to supporting a regional ‘transitional’ camp in East Timor. The so-called ‘Pacific Solution’ was eventually proven to be a failure, and the East Timor option is most likely to do so as well, and to have very limited actual deterrent value.
Under international law, any signatory to the UN Convention must receive and give due process under natural justice to all asylum claimants seeking refuge from persecution, war or torture. This must take place on a country’s own soil if an asylum seeker arrives in territorial waters. It is illegal and unethical to place asylum seekers in detention of a third party country.
RCNZ also is also concerned about the detrimental and damaging effects of long term detention on women and children particularly. Hard evidence regarding the exact nature and extent of the effects of detention is included in the enclosed attachment.
RCNZ is also very concerned about the reported statement of the Prime Minister that New Zealand may possibly accept a proportion of the boat people from Australia but apply that number within the small existing United Nations quota of 750. Such an ill-considered decision would predictably have quite unforeseen, damaging and unfair consequences for the high protection UN Quota Refugees who had been selected from the queue and welcomed for resettlement. It would also have the effect of most unfairly displacing family reunifications for former refugees who are now settled New Zealand citizens and who arrived legally as welcomed settlers.