Key accused of scaremongering
Prime Minister John Key says accepting a boat load of Sri Lankan asylum seekers would open the flood gates to "millions of others'' and reward the "bad people''.
But Amnesty International New Zealand chief executive Patrick Holmes said Key was talking "nonsense" and was just "scaremongering".
A boat carrying Tamil asylum seekers was detained on Saturday by the Indonesian Navy as they apparently tried to make their way to New Zealand.
New information has emerged that there are 87 Sri Lankan nationals on the boat, including six women and five children.
The group, which included women and children, were arrested and are reportedly pleading for the New Zealand Government to accept them as refugees from decades-long conflict between the Sri Lankan Government and Tamils fighting for independence.
Key said New Zealand was not an inhumane country. The had Government accepted 750 refugees every year from the United Nations's refugee agency, the UNHCR, which identified "legitimate'' refugees.
"Once you start taking people in the form of people smugglers, you are rewarding the bad guys,'' he told TV3's Firstline programme. "You are rewarding people who are putting others' lives at risk.''
There was no guarantee the Sri Lankans were actually refugees, Key said. "You open the flood gate, which as you see in Australia, is one you can't stop.''
Once the boat made it into New Zealand's territorial waters the Government had legal obligations, he said.
"But while they are not anywhere near our waters, the message is a very clear one. We don't want people coming to New Zealand in this form.
"We turn them away where we can. We take those actions when people land at our airport, we turn them back and frankly that's the way it should be because there is a very fair pathway.
"You come through the normal channels as a refugee otherwise you are jumping the queue.''
People smugglers were now acquiring large boats which were capable of making the journey to New Zealand, Key said.
"There are literally millions of people in this category. It's not a simple thing to just say 'let's take this boat in and be good citizens'.
"If you are going to take this boat, there are just thousands and thousands of other boats which will come.''
The Government would not consider increasing its refugee quota, he said.
Holmes said New Zealand rarely filled its quota.
"We usually only take about 250 and that number's been falling,'' he told Radio New Zealand.
The Government did not know how legitimate the Sri Lankans' claims were, he said. "But for the Prime Minister to come out and say they are not welcome flies in the face of Government policy. We have a legal obligation to assess the rights of those seeking asylum.''
The Prime Minister's comments did nothing to uphold New Zealand's international reputation, Holmes said.
"To label all people fleeing from some of the most inhumane circumstances in the world, it is quite possible these people are fleeing from those situations, is really clouding the issue and scaremongering.
United Sri Lanka Association spokesman Chula Rajapakse said there should be no reason for there to be refugees from Sri Lanka at the moment, as the country was "as peaceful as Wellington".
"There's no violence there right now, the violence there caused by Tamil terrorism has been quelled, it's been put to rest two years ago.
"We have always taken the position that, when it comes to this queue-jumping by people-smugglers, New Zealand should not be seen to be taking a soft hand."
According to United Nations figures, there are at present 216 asylum seekers in New Zealand and 2307 refugees.
Tampa “boy” says refugees not bad
One of the celebrated asylum seeking “Tampa boys”, now a New Zealander, says the country should be careful about condemning a group of Sri Lankans apparently trying to head here from Indonesia on a boat.
Twenty-four-year old Abdul Zullal of Auckland knows exactly what will be going through the minds of the latest asylum seekers.
He was one of 433 Afghan asylum seekers rescued from a sinking fishing boat in the Indian Ocean by the cargo ship Tampa on August 26, 2001.
Then Australian Prime Minister John Howard refused to let them in, instead creating the “Pacific Solution” and detaining them in Nauru.
New Zealand's Prime Minister, Helen Clark, allowed 37 unaccompanied teenagers to enter New Zealand.
Zullal, now a New Zealand citizen and married with a child, said he recognised there were a couple of sides to the issue with New Zealanders worried about unemployment and the economic situation.
“Some people over there are desperate… I have experienced it myself,” Zullal said. “This country is a country of immigrants and everybody was imported here at some stage. Some people take risks to come here, and I think perhaps they should be rewarded or that.”
He worried that New Zealanders of his generation did not understand the pain such people face.
“They haven’t seen the difficulties, how hard it is to live in those places. There is always prosecution, discrimination against minorities… minor religious groups.
The Dominion Post