Labour says refugees could not reach NZ

MATT STEWART
Last updated 05:00 12/07/2014
Labour MP Trevor Mallard.
IMMIGRATION SPOKESPERSON: Trevor Mallard.

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A group of 41 asylum seekers may have been overly optimistic about landing on our shores.

Labour's immigration spokesman, Trevor Mallard, said the asylum seekers' claim they were New Zealand-bound needed to be taken with a grain of salt.

"They have a healthy sense of optimism seeing as they had roughly 10,000 kilometres to come and they should be praised for that but the chances are unlikely to zero," the MP said.

On June 12, a 12-metre fishing vessel called the Sithumina left Batticaloa, on Sri Lanka's east coast, at 2.30am. The 41 passengers had met the ship several hundred metres from the beach after being ferried there in two small motor-boats.

Most of the passengers were men who have since freely admitted they were simply looking for new jobs and a better life in safe and faraway New Zealand, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

After only 14 days at sea they were picked up by the Royal Australian Navy.

On Monday, all 41 passengers were returned to Sri Lanka by the Australian Government.

Speaking last week from the nation's capital, Colombo, Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said he had no concerns about their safety or wellbeing in their homeland.

Five of the group, accused of trafficking, are being held in the notorious Boossa prison, while 27 others accused of illegally leaving the country were released on bail. Nine children were also freed.

Morrison's New Zealand counterpart, Michael Woodhouse, said there was no doubt New Zealand was a growing target for people-smugglers.

Tougher Australian immigration laws could make the threat of a mass arrival here even greater, he said.

"The Government takes people-smuggling very seriously and we have taken steps to plan and prepare for if and when the first boat makes it through . . . Despite the lies told by smugglers to their vulnerable victims, any attempted journey would be utterly perilous and put the lives of people at risk."

Murdoch Stephens, the co-ordinator of Doing Our Bit - a campaign to double New Zealand's refugee quota and funding - said turning back the asylum seekers was a "basically illegal" move by the Australian Government.

They were being sent back to a situation that left them "ripe for persecution . . . they are desperate people fleeing war and persecution," Stephens said.

Green Party immigration spokeswoman Jan Logie made global headlines last year when she was detained in Sri Lanka while highlighting human rights abuses ahead of a Commonwealth leaders' summit.

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"It's no secret Sri Lanka is not a safe place for Tamils or those who oppose the government," she said.

"Yet many countries, including New Zealand, are failing to recognise this. I find it appalling our Government has not taken a tougher stance to stand up to the Sri Lankan Government.

"Our trade considerations have overridden our human rights considerations and this needs to stop."

- The Dominion Post

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