NZ to allow mass detention of 'boat people'

2013-06-14 14:07
(File, AP)

(File, AP)

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Wellington - New Zealand's parliament passed legislation late on Thursday allowing it to detain groups of more than 30 asylum seekers for up to six months.

The government believes it is only a matter of time before boats carrying asylum seekers, which have long targeted Australia, make it to New Zealand waters.

"This legislation is about ensuring our system can handle a mass arrival should one occur and sending a clear message to potential people-smuggling ventures that New Zealand is not a soft touch," said Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse.

He said the landing in Western Australia in April of a boat from Sri Lanka, with occupants saying they wished to come to New Zealand and flying a New Zealand flag, showed the need for the new law.

"New Zealand is a growing target for boats from Asia, as demonstrated recently by the boat carrying 66 Sri Lankan asylum seekers," he said.

However, the government's claims were dismissed by the opposition Labour Party, with immigration spokesperson Darien Fenton telling parliament it was ridiculous to think a boat could make it to New Zealand without stopping somewhere on the way.

Rights group Amnesty International said the new detention powers breached the Refugee Convention and human rights law.

"Amnesty believes that this law will do nothing to counter people smuggling, and the government should not be targeting the victims but the people smugglers themselves. Unnecessarily locking up women, children and families will violate New Zealand's international obligations," Amnesty said.

- SAPA
Read more on:    new zealand  |  australia  |  immigrants
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