NZ to take boat people

John Key. Photo Reuters
John Key. Photo Reuters
New Zealand will take 150 boat people a year who have been approved as refugees by Australian authorities in offshore processing, Prime Minister John Key has announced.

The figure will be part of the annual quota of 750 refugees New Zealand takes as part of New Zealand's commitment to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

"We are limiting this 150 in order to still maintain a significant commitment to resettling refugees referred by the UNHCR," he said.

Except for the past two years, New Zealand usually fills its 750 quota.

The figure was agreed during talks in Queenstown this morning with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

New Zealand last took refugees in a similar manner in from The Tampa - 131 for resettlement in New Zealand in 2001.

The issue of arrivals of asylum seeker by boat has plagued the Labor Government ever since former prime minister Kevin Rudd ditched offshore processing in Nauru and Manus Island in 2007, a policy which was introduced by John Howard's government in 2001 and had virtually stopped boat arrivals.

ChangeMakers Refugee Forum, an organisation which works with 14 refugee groups in the Wellington region, has welcomed discussions on the issue.

General manager Tim O'Donovan said while he believed it was "highly unlikely" that boats carrying asylum seekers would arrive on New Zealand shores, it was an issue in Australia that had polarised public opinion.

"To see our Government willing to take initiative on asylum seekers is great," he said.

"John Key is right. We need to be thinking about regional solutions to this issue.

"But such discussions need to be underpinned by the international commitments that New Zealand and Australia have made and ensure that asylum seekers are not subject to punitive measures while their claim for asylum is being processed."

- Audrey Young

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