Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has met again with her Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull to discuss the situation on Manus Island, promising up to $3 million in aid to Papua New Guinea.
Ardern says the two countries have started to prepare for if and when Australia accepts a New Zealand offer to resettle up to 150 refugees, hailing it as the most significant progress in years.
Ardern has created headlines during her trip to Asia by speaking out about conditions on Manus Island, saying she saw “the human face” of the conditions facing those at the shuttered detention centre.
After the offshore detention centre on Manus Island closed and electricity was switched off at the end of October, hundreds of men stayed put, reportedly fearing the conditions at transit centres set up for the refugees.
Australia has in the past declined to take up New Zealand’s resettlement offer, saying it was focussed on a larger deal with the United States to resettle up to 1250 refugees.
However, Ardern’s offer has gained some momentum in recent days, with both the UN Refugee Agency and the Australian Senate urging the Australian government to accept the deal.
Ardern told media in Manila late Tuesday night (NZT) officials from the two countries had been holding regular meetings to discuss the deal.
“There hasn’t been any occasion where I’ve requested a conversation that has been declined, or indeed snubbed,” she said, in a reference to media coverage of her attempts to speak with Turnbull.
New Zealand’s offer remained on the table “because the need remains”, she said.
“We believe we have a role to play as members of the international community, but also as neighbours to Australia to offer our support in finding resolution to this situation.”
The two countries were starting preparatory work to help smooth the resettlement process if Australia did take up the offer.
“We accept it will take some time to process those on Manus Island and on Nauru, a number of months, so working together now and early is important so that we are prepared if and when Australia takes up that offer…
“That is more progress than we have had on the offer in a number of years.”
In addition, Ardern said New Zealand would provide up to $3m from its official development assistance budget to help with the situation on Manus Island, working directly with Papua New Guinea and with international aid agencies like the Red Cross.
Pushing back against suggestions New Zealand should bypass Australia and deal directly with Papua New Guinea on resettlement, Ardern said it was crucial to work with our bigger neighbour as it held the relevant information.
“The only way resettlement in New Zealand can happen is via Australia…there is no other way for us to further this offer than via Australia.”