WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand’s prime minister on Friday repeated her country’s offer to take up to 150 refugees from an Australian immigration camp in Papua New Guinea, where more than 600 weakened men are continuing a standoff with authorities.
Jacinda Ardern said she would personally restate the offer to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull when they meet on Sunday in Sydney. New Zealand has made the offer before but Australia has declined on the grounds it could allow the refugees access to Australia.
Iranian Behrouz Boochani, who is living in the camp on Manus Island, said the refugees are starving and are without medical treatment after their camp was declared closed Tuesday based on a Papua New Guinea court ruling. However, the refugees fear for their safety from locals and have refused to leave. The facility has been left unguarded, without power and with limited toilet facilities.
In a series of tweets, Boochani described deplorable conditions, saying the refugees had resorted to digging holes to try to find water to drink.
“At the moment hundreds of naked men are lying around me,” Boochani wrote. “They are starving and their bodies are getting weak.”
Boochani said the New Zealand offer was “our best chance.”
“Australia blocking but has no right to say no,” he wrote on Twitter. “You can’t keep political hostages.”
Ardern said in a statement the offer would be covered by New Zealand’s existing refugee quota and applied to offshore refugees on both Manus Island and the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru.
“I acknowledge that, while New Zealand has not had to contend with these issues on our shores, it’s hard to ignore the human face of this situation and nor should it be ignored,” Ardern wrote.
New Zealand citizens are typically allowed to work and live in Australia, a pathway that Australia fears could be used by the refugees to move to Australia.
For four years, Australia has paid Papua New Guinea, its nearest neighbor, and Nauru to house asylum seekers who attempt to reach the Australian coast by boat. They are Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, Afghans, Iranians, Sri Lankans and other nationalities.
Australia has recognized that many of the asylum seekers are refugees who cannot return to their homelands, but it refuses to resettle anyone who tries to reach the country by boat in a policy it credits with dissuading such dangerous ocean crossings. •
By NICK PERRY, Associated Press