Commentary – By Gordon Campbell
In the past, successive Labour and National led governments have been happy to use the poisonous term “queue jumping” to describe people trying to exercise their UN Refugee Convention-based right to reach these shores and claim political asylum.
When it comes to claims for political asylum, there is no queue. All claims must be assessed and where they are well founded grounds for political persecution, asylum must be granted.
Political asylum is a totally different procedure – or should be – from the UN refugee quota of 750 which New Zealand agrees to take each year. Less than a year ago, Deputy Prime Minister Bill English was happy to blur this distinction, presumably in order to whip up public hostility:
Mr. English said the New Zealand Government did have plans in place for if asylum seekers arrived in New Zealand without going through the proper United Nations processes.
“If they turn up here without going through the proper refugee process then they’re certainly trying to jump the queue on other refugees.”
No, they’re not – as even a cursory glance at the UN Refugee Convention would confirm. Similarly, the government used the bogus “queue jumping” rhetoric at a parliamentary press conference last year to justify its Immigration Amendment Bill, which aims to establish Aussie-like detention measures here when (and if) boat people ever reach New Zealand.
Less than a year ago, when then-Immigration Minister Nathan Guy introduced this noxious Bill to Parliament, he strongly criticised the people-smugglers exploiting the needs of boat people, and re-stated the government’s commitment to our annual intake of 750 under the annual UN intake:
The Government, of course, is committed to upholding New Zealand’s obligations under international law and New Zealand’s reputation as a good international citizen. We will continue to accept 750 refugees per year through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees process. This is the appropriate way to come to New Zealand as a refugee and we expect proper immigration processes to be followed.
On the weekend however, the Key government suddenly did an about turn. Encouraging the people-smugglers went off the radar.
New Zealand agreed to take 150 boat people currently detained by the Australians in the likes of Papua New Guinea and Nauru – and moreover, this new intake would be allowed to displace those who would otherwise have come to New Zealand via our annual UN quota.
To win brownie points with the Australians, we seem willing to undermine the UN quota system and boost the people smuggling industry – at the expense of those refugees waiting in UN camps in Africa and Asia to be vetted by the current UNHCR process.