New Zealand and Australian officials have begun talks about screening processes for asylum seekers who have shut themselves inside a Papua New Guinea detention centre, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday. Australia has been refusing New Zealand’s offer to take up to 150 of the detainees from the Australian-run camp on Manus Island, but Ardern’s comments have raised speculation that Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is ready to accept the offer.
The centre was closed almost three weeks ago after PNG’s High Court ruled it was illegal, but more than 400 detainees have refused to leave, citing concerns for their security if they were moved to transit centres, as planned.
Turnbull has been refusing New Zealand’s offer to take some of the men, because he is worried that asylum seekers would view it as a “back door” to Australia, undermining the country’s tough immigration policies.
Ardern said the conversations were about establishing the screening processes.
“To be clear we have not started that process,” Ardern told Radio New Zealand. “But I think that certainly we’re a bit further along than we have been before – we haven’t even had officials having those discussions in the past.”
The United Nations, which has warned of a “looming humanitarian crisis”, last week urged Australia to accept New Zealand’s offer to take the men.
Turnbull has insisted the priority was an existing refugee swap deal he negotiated with former US President Barack Obama last year.
The men holed up inside the camp are reliant on erratic food supplies smuggled in by supporters. They have no power or running water.
Australia’s “sovereign borders” immigration policy, under which it refuses to allow asylum seekers arriving by boat to reach its shores, has been heavily criticised by the United Nations and human rights groups but has bipartisan political support in Australia.