10 April 2012

NZ bound asylum seekers receive Australia visa

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A group of Chinese asylum seekers have been granted a temporary Australia visa while they prepare to make a hazardous journey to New Zealand to make their asylum claim there.

Australia visa

The group are being advised against making the perilous journey across the Tasman Sea.

The 10 Chinese nationals, who claim to be members of the oppressed Falun Gong spiritual movement, initially attempted to reach New Zealand as they feared the mandatory detention policy if they made a claim for asylum in Australia. However, when their boat ran into difficulties they were diverted to Darwin and now that some of the group have been granted a temporary Australia visa, they say they are debating whether or not to make the trip.

Sailing from Australia to New Zealand involves crossing the 1,200km wide Tasman Sea, a perilous journey no asylum seekers have ever successfully completed and, given the Chinese nationals admit they have never been on a boat before and have only a handheld GPS system to guide them, they are being advised against making the journey.

However, as they have not been apprehended by Australian immigration authorities and have been granted visas, the Australian government can do little to keep them in the country.

"My understanding of that matter is that we're not in a position where we could detain these people. They have not asked for asylum in Australia and they are on a seaworthy vessel. So we are not in a position where we could detain them against their will," said Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

The group, who reportedly met in a detention centre in Malaysia, said they were being held temporarily in Australia for safety concerns while they resupplied but still appear intent on travelling to New Zealand despite being treated well by Australian officials.

"The Australian government doesn't want us to leave for New Zealand. They are just thinking about our safety at sea. They're just trying to take care of us," said one of the group through an interpreter.

Opposition politicians in Australia have expressed differing views on the issue, Coalition members Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison have labelled the asylum seekers' actions as 'country shopping' and reiterated the need for stronger border controls while Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young says the group should be given asylum in Australia and their safety given the utmost concern.

If the group do decide to travel to New Zealand, their arrival will be anticipated with New Zealand's immigration minister, Nathan Guy, promising to work closely with the Australians to monitor the situation.

Mr Guy said both countries would show "extreme concern for the safety of the passengers should they attempt what would be a very hazardous voyage to New Zealand."

As immigration, and particularly mandatory detention for asylum seekers, is such a controversial topic in Australia, the group's preference to attempt a potentially dangerous journey to New Zealand rather than remain in the country they're already in has generated a significant amount of publicity.

Because of this, international law expert Don Rothwell from the Australian National University claims the perilous journey might not need to be undertaken at all.

"In light of the publicity this incident has generated, Australia may seek to offer the Chinese asylum on humanitarian grounds in an effort to discourage them from seeking to reach New Zealand by boat, thereby avoiding a possible maritime disaster.

"Alternatively, New Zealand may offer them asylum on the same grounds, in which case they could be brought to New Zealand by air where their asylum claims could then be processed upon arrival."

The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people lodge their applications with the Australian Embassy London.

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