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Greens not keen on boat people proposition

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Wellington, July 7 NZPA - The risk of asylum seekers heading to New Zealand on boats is low and so are the chances of a refugee "processing centre" providing an acceptable answer to the problem Australia faces in dealing with refugees, says the Green Party.

New Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard yesterday said she had spoken to East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta about the possibility of setting up a processing centre in his country to deal with asylum seeking "boat people", who often attempt to enter Australia illegally from politically unstable countries.

Ms Gillard and Prime Minister John Key also discussed the initiative and Mr Key said while the Government was open minded about providing support, it had no intention of increasing its annual intake of 750 refugees under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) system.

Mr Key said while New Zealand was geographically difficult to access, the boats being used to smuggle people were getting bigger and there was a real risk New Zealand would be targeted in the future.

But Green Party immigration spokesman Keith Locke said the distance boats would have to travel in rough seas meant it was unrealistic to expect New Zealand would be a target, and that it wasn't in New Zealand's interests to support an offshore processing centre.

He was dubious about the prospect of such an initiative providing an effective solution considering a similar approach had been taken several years ago on the island of Nauru under the John Howard government.

"(That) was a big flop and caused great problems for the asylum seekers...I don't think it would be much better if they were shuffled off to Timor-Leste," he told NZPA.

Mr Locke said if New Zealand was to step up cooperation with Australia on asylum matters it needed to "share the load" and up its annual intake of refugees.

He said New Zealand had assisted in taking 13 Tamil asylum seekers from a larger group picked up late last year by Australian Customs vessel the Oceanic Viking, and with intakes having in the past fallen below the 750 limit there was scope to accept one-off intakes up to and above that limit.

Mr Key said more trans-Tasman discussions about boat people would be held in the future on a "no promises" basis, but coming up with a regional solution made sense.

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