Australia turns down New Zealand’s refugee offer, prefers US deal

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PM Malcolm Turnbull
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaks during a news conference in Sydney, Australia, July 10, 2016. Reuters/Paul Miller/AAP

Australia has rejected New Zealand’s offer to take some asylum seekers. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reportedly said he prefers to work with the United States rather than New Zealand.

“As you know we have an arrangement with the United States whereby a substantial number of 1,250 can, subject to the United States rigorous vetting, be resettled in the United States and we’re pursuing those arrangements at the moment,” Turnbull said at a news conference. He said his government is “not taking up this time” assistance from the neighbouring nation.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her country could take 150 asylum seekers, who are currently held in limbo. The offer has been on the table since 2013, and Ardern said it is “very genuine.”

The Aussie leader declined, saying he preferred to pursue a current refugee deal previously negotiated with former United States President Barack Obama. The deal sends 1,250 refugees to the US and requires Australia to accept Central American asylum seekers.

The news comes amid criticism from the United Nations and human rights groups aimed at Australia’s offshore detention policies. UN rights spokesman Rupert Colville warned about “unfolding humanitarian emergency” in the Manus island centre.

Asylum seekers were reportedly digging wells to find water. Around 600 men at the centre of Manus Island do not want to leave as they fear being attacked once outside.

Ardern previously said she had sympathy for the refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island, the New Zealand Herald reports. "I think anyone would look at a situation like that and see the human face of what is an issue that New Zealand is in the lucky position of not having to struggle with, and Australia has," Ardern said.

Meanwhile, Hollywood star Russell Crowe has asked Aussies to consider taking in refugees and asylum seekers. The New Zealand-born star announced on Twitter that he can help some refugees.

Under its policy, Australia refuses to take in anyone trying to unofficially reach its territories by boat. The government maintained that its policy prevents human trafficking and deaths at sea.

Behrouz Boochani, a journalist and Iranian refugee who has been held on Manus Island since August 2014, wrote on Twitter that one of the refugees has harmed himself with a razor, cutting his wrist and chest. He said he was physically fine but was mentally out of control.

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