New Zealand Again Offers Sanctuary for Some Manus Island Refugees

It’s been almost three months since Australia closed its controversial offshore detention center on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, and the future of the more than 600 men who remain in community accommodation on the island is still unclear.

Past disturbances among detainees at the Australian-run detention center were fueled by fear and frustration. New Zealand has said it would grant asylum to 150 of the men, reiterating an offer first made in 2013. It is, however, a proposal Australia has rejected.

Since World War II, New Zealand has resettled more than 33,000 refugees. In Wellington, a catering company run by Rebecca Stewart is offering a new beginning for such people.

Experience factor

“The difference with us is that we work with people from a refugee background,” she said. “We have cooks from Iran, Iraq, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Syria and now Palestine.They get commercial kitchen training and employment. So we have been operating for a year.”

Hajar, who asked that we not use her surname, arrived in New Zealand five years ago after fleeing from Iran. It was not an easy transition.

“Yes, it was very hard, because I do not have any family in New Zealand and no friends,” she said.

But thanks to her catering training, she is optimistic about the future.

“We would like to have [a] better life for especially our children, [a] better future for them,” Hajar said. “My dream is if I can have my own big restaurant in New Zealand.”

For the last nine years, Ibrahim Omar, a refugee from Eritrea who works for a trade union, has been building a new life in Wellington.

Omar said that when he was first asked whether he wanted to go to New Zealand, he did some research and found that it was a peaceful country where English was spoken. So “I’m, like, yes, that is where I want to go.” He said he was “sick of looking over the shoulder, because my trouble was not just in Eritrea. In Sudan, I faced a lot of troubles when I worked as an interpreter for UNHCR,” the U.N. refugee agency.

New Zealand’s offer to resettle some of the men on Manus Island remains on the table. Trade Minister David Parker said his government was ready to help.

‘We are happy’ to help

“The world has a higher number of displaced people caused by conflicts and problems in different parts of the world than it has had since World War II, and we are happy in New Zealand to be doing our part by taking a few more of those refugees,” he said.

Australia said it would not consider New Zealand’s offer because of its current resettlement arrangement with the United States. The United States has agreed to take up to 1,200 refugees held in Australia’s offshore migrant centers, but so far, only a small number have been resettled.

Campaigners say that deal, described by U.S. President Donald Trump as “dumb,” is moving too slowly, and they fear hundreds of refugees will ultimately be left in limbo in Papua New Guinea and on tiny, impoverished Nauru.

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