NZ offer prompts smuggle trade
NEW Zealand's suggestion that it take in 150 asylum seekers from Manus Island late last year has reportedly caused a jump in people-smuggling operations, according to intelligence sources.
According to The Australian, Australian intelligence sources claimed at least three boats had attempted to test the policy shift and use the country as a "back door" to the country.
The Australian has also reported that a boat was intercepted by Australian authorities just prior to Christmas, and that smugglers on board the vessel had said New Zealand was their destination.
Sri Lankan police had also reportedly stopped two other vessels who said they were attempting to get to New Zealand.
Intelligence officials also said that increased "chatter" in the past few months had put New Zealand as a prime destination for asylum seekers.
An intelligence source reportedly said that the rise in people-smuggling was down to the fact that the Ardern government's proposal to take refugees from offshore detention centres.
Prime Minister Ardern has been highly critical of Australia's treatment of refugees.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten supported Ms Ardern's offer, claiming it was similar to an agreement with the US to resettle families from Nauru.
"If New Zealand want to take some of these people and PNG and these people are happy to go to New Zealand, why are we getting in the way of a fair solution," Mr Shorten said late last year.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton accused the Opposition Leader of encouraging a new wave of asylum-seekers, telling The Australian Mr Shorten's support was irresponsible.
"Bill Shorten flying a kite on New Zealand resettlement has given the people-smugglers a product to sell again," he said. "There is no doubt vulnerable people will be put on boats because of Bill Shorten's statements.
"Even after 800 boats and 50,000 people in detention, Labor has still not learnt its lesson: if you weaken your borders, the people-smugglers will take advantage of you."
Manus Island has been the subject of long-running claims by human rights organisations that the conditions represent a human rights violation. "I see the human face of this and I see the need and the role New Zealand needs to play," Ms Ardern said in November. "I think it's clear that we don't see what's happening there as acceptable; that's why the offer's there."
This story was originally published in The Australian and is reprinted with permission.