New Zealand will do what Australia never would and resettle 450 refugees stuck in Australia’s offshore detention.

Our neighbour will take 150 refugees per year for the next three years of those already in detention. Unfortunately any asylum seekers who arrive by boat in future will not be eligible for NZ resettlement because the Australian Government’s offshore detention policy has not changed. 

This is good news for the people who’ve been indefinitely incarcerated by the government for as many as nine whole years under our cruel and inhumane immigration laws. But it comes nine years too late and hundreds will still be left behind.

The deal was first struck in 2013 (maths: nine years ago) between former Prime Minister Julia Gillard and former NZ PM John Key when the Labor government first introduced the offshore processing program. Of the refugees who arrived by boat in Australia or its offshore processing centres 150 per year were meant to start being rehomed in NZ in 2014 as part of an ongoing agreement between the two nations. 

So why the massive fucking delay? 

When the Coalition won the 2013 federal election it paused the deal because it was scared refugees settled in NZ would use their new visas to try to come back to glittering Aus and try to settle here instead. Right.

Nine years of torture and trauma later the government has finally backed down on its concerns, but it’s still not enough.

There are 112 refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru and 1,100 more detained in Australia, which the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said made this deal insufficient.

Shadow Home Affairs Minister Kristina Keneally also said there were no guarantees the government would actually follow through on the deal this time, given its track record. 

“This is a humiliating backflip for Scott Morrison who claimed as recently as 2018 that New Zealand’s generous offer to resettle refugees would see people smugglers restart their evil trade,” Keneally said.

But this isn’t the first time refugees detained in Australia have been released and offered visas in NZ.

Journalist and Kurdish refugee Behrouz Boochani was one of the highest-profile examples when he resettled there in 2020 after years in offshore detention. 

NZ Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said on Thursday the country had a strong humanitarian spirit. 

“New Zealand has a long and proud history of refugee resettlement and this arrangement is another example of how we are fulfilling our humanitarian international commitment,” he said. 

“We are pleased to be able to provide resettlement outcomes for refugees who would otherwise have continued to face uncertain futures.”

In the meantime, lives have been destroyed and continue to be destroyed as innocent people remain in confinement with no end in sight.

Image: Getty Images / Chris Putnam