Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull faces further pressure from Jacinda Ardern as the New Zealand leader repeats her offer to take 150 refugees from Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and Nauru.
The two are expected to meet during the East Asia Summit (EAS) in Manila, the Philippines, where Asia Pacific leaders have gathered following the Apec meeting in Vietnam.
Ardern said no precise time had been set for the meeting, though there were plenty of opportunities to talk at such gatherings.
She said the refugees were the only subject she wanted to raise.
“I will be raising with Prime Minister Turnbull, as I have consistently done, that we have great concerns over the situation on Manus Island but also for the refugees on Nauru.”
She saw no difference in principle between the cases on the two islands.
“Our hope is to lend a hand as far as we are able in helping resolve this situation.”
Speaking to media soon after arriving in Manila, Ardern said “all I can do is put New Zealand’s case (forward)”.
Australia has repeatedly said it wants first to take advantage of a US offer to take 1250 of the refugees, and Ardern has deferred to that for now.
And she has not moved to negotiate directly with PNG while Australia leaves New Zealand’s offer “on the table” but does not totally reject it.
She said Australia had done the initial screening of the refugees, and going direct to PNG would not “add any haste to the issue”.
But Foreign Minister Winston Peters held informal talks with PNG Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato in Vietnam, and it’s understood more of the refugees were being moved to the US this week.
Ardern said she had not had an “official update”, but had heard suggestions of that.
Reports suggest the US has taken little more than 50 the refugees, as a humanitarian crisis deepens on Manus, where 400 refugess have barricaded themselves inside the closed detention centre.
Ardern said it was not a matter for New Zealand if Australia wanted to bar those who might come to New Zealand from entering Australia.
That has been mooted as a compromise to allay Australian concerns that New Zealand would be seen as a back door to Australia, potentially encouraging more refugees to head for Australia.
Ardern said New Zealand “treated citizens as citizens and residents as residents”, so was not prepared to give the refugees a different status, but how Australia viewed refugees that might come to New Zealand was a matter for that country.
Meanwhile, National’s foreign affairs spokesman Gerry Brownlee has said while nobody is immune to the suffering on Manus, Ardern should be cautious and show respect to the wider problem Australia faced. He said it was not a “straight-forward matter”.
But Ardern said she stood by the way she had managed the situation.
“Every step of the way has been a dialogue with Australia about the best way to find resolution.”
At the EAS, Ardern will hold bilateral talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, Premier Li Keqiang of China, EU council president Donald Tusk and President Joko Widodo of Indonesia, as well as with the meeting’s host, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
She said the summit would focus on regional security issues and how to prevent extremism.
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