Prime Minister John Key’s comments on the acceptance of asylum seekers represent a deeply concerning lack of compassion for some of the world’s most vulnerable people and ignores the violent and terrifying situations these people are fleeing says Amnesty International.
“By making a blanket statement that asylum seekers are not welcome in New Zealand, our Prime Minister is showing a total disregard for our country’s legal and moral responsibility to offer protection to refugees,” says Patrick Holmes, Chief Executive Officer of Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand.
As a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, New Zealand has an international legal obligation to assess the claims of any asylum seekers who arrive in New Zealand and provide protection to those who are genuine refugees.
“Asylum seekers are not breaking the law. Nobody wants to be a refugee, yet thousands of Sri Lankans are currently facing the daily risk of grave human rights abuses and have no hope of finding sanctuary in their own country. As a result, men, women, children and families are forced to take desperate measures and risk their lives,” says Holmes.
“While New Zealand accepts an annual quota of 750 refugees through the UN system, this should not be confused with those that claim asylum at the border. New Zealand has a responsibility to process the claims of these individuals and offer protection to those found to be genuine refugees.”
“The claim that asylum seekers are queue jumping simply is not true – those fleeing conflicts in places like Sri Lanka have no access to refugee resettlement programmes and are simply running for their lives. In the case of Australia, more than 90% of asylum seekers arriving by boat are found to be genuine refugees.”
“Accepting one boatload of asylum seekers is not going to see our country suddenly overrun by a flood of refugees. In the last five years, an average of 250 asylum seekers have arrived each year in New Zealand.”
“If we want to address the issue of people smuggling, intercepting boats and returning vulnerable asylum seekers to the risk of persecution, imprisonment, torture and even death will not solve the issue. To effectively reduce incidents of people smuggling, in a manner both durable and humane, New Zealand must address the reasons that force asylum seekers onto boats – grave human rights abuses in their countries of origin,” adds Holmes.