Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has blocked the idea of allowing any of the 450 men found to be genuine refugees and still in detention on Manus Island from resettling in New Zealand.
Around 850 men, more than half of them assessed as refugees, remain in the camp, which Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court ruled breached the nation’s constitution and was illegal.
PNG prime minister Peter O’Neill subsequently announced he would close the centre and planned to negotiate with Australia, which set up the facility to deal with asylum seekers arriving by boat.
What to do about its inhabitants is now threatening to become a major issue during the expected July 2 election, with Australian immigration minister Peter Dutton and the PM adamant that none will be allowed to resettle in Australia.
Yesterday, leading Jesuit priest, human rights lawyer and academic Father Frank Brennan, suggested they should be moved to Christmas Island, where a detention facility already exists, and processed within 12 months, but that idea was quashed almost immediately by Turnbull.
And Peter Hughes, the former immigration deputy secretary who negotiated Labor’s Malaysia deal for asylum seekers, which was subsequently blocked by the Coalition and Greens, argued that Australia and New Zealand were the only possible options after PNG itself and the Coalition’s alternative arrangement, Cambodia, were rejected by the overwhelming majority of the refugees.
But today on Melbourne’s 3AW, Turnbull said allowing the refugees to resettle in New Zealand would be “a marketing opportunity” for people smugglers.
“We can’t afford to let the empathy that we feel for the desperate circumstances that many people find themselves in, to cloud our judgement. Our national security has to come first,” he said.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten said Labor was “open to the question of resettlement countries”.
Labor has also ruled out resettlement in Australia.
The debate over resettlement comes as a 23-year-old Iranian man who set himself on fire outside the Nauru detention centre, after three years on the island, died from his injuries in a Brisbane hospital today.