Briefing paper

New Zealand’s refugee report card (spoiler: history won’t be kind)

Right of asylum Refugees Asylum seekers New Zealand Australia

Prime Minister Bill English was roundly criticised last week for mumbling into his sleeve when asked if President Trump’s new Muslim ban was racist. But his response wasn’t far off from the hands-off, it’s-not-our-problem approach he inherited.

Indeed, what was the most notable thing about New Zealand’s response to the greatest refugee crisis since WWII this past year?

We simply shrugged.

History won’t be kind either. Our actions toward refugees on the world stage aren’t the problem. What will define us in years to come was our quiet, unshakable inaction.


What is New Zealand’s stance on Australian abuses of asylum seekers in our region on Nauru and Manus Island? 

Silence, now entering its fourth year.

Australia continues to infect our region with some of the harshest laws against asylum seekers in the Western World. The Guardian exposed extensive sexual abuse, mental illness, endemic suicide attempts, self-harm and child abuse in ‘The Nauru Files’, bringing Australia’s offshore imprisonment of families—even children—renewed international condemnation.

Australia’s offshore detention continues to be a handbook on how to construct a prison system designed to engender enough psychological trauma and hopelessness that broken asylum seekers will eventually chose to return to war as a ‘better’ option.

“I’ve never come across refugees this broken,” reported an Australian photojournalist  (0)who travelled to Manus Island. Having covered the world photographing some of the world’s most desperate refugees since 1995, Ashley Gilbertson reported in The New York Times, “Yet in all that time, I have not seen the level of cruelty toward these vulnerable people that the Australian government is perpetrating against the refugees on Manus Island.”

New Zealand’s response: We have chosen to say nothing. The New Zealand government has remained notably mute, as some detainees now enter their fourth year of imprisonment.

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