The New Zealand government has rejected suggestions that it blocked refugees in Nauru visiting the country on holiday visas, while it has not offered to accept 80 on a permanent basis.
Nauruan President Baron Divavesi Waqa this week said he had brokered a deal for New Zealand to accept 80 refugees from the nation, according to a report in the Australian newspaper.
New Zealand was also among the Pacific island nations blocking holiday visas for 450 refugees, Nauruan officials told the newspaper.
Despite a note from the UN supporting refugees’ travel rights, only Fiji had agreed to a request to honor the visas, Nauruan officials said.
A spokesman for New Zealand Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern yesterday said that the reported claims were “incorrect.”
He said the government had not discussed accepting a “select cohort of 80 of Nauru’s refugees” and that New Zealand “recognizes valid refugee travel documents, in line with UN obligations.”
“All applications for visitor visas for New Zealand, including from refugees, are assessed on a case-by-case basis against standard criteria,” the spokesman said.
At the Asian leaders’ meeting in Singapore this week, Ardern repeated New Zealand’s offer to Australia to resettle refugees.
The Australian government is under pressure to remove the remaining children from the island nation — fewer than 30 now remain there.
In the interview with the Australian, Waqa also said that 40 refugees who were sent to the US under Australia’s deal negotiated with the administration of former US president Barack Obama had contacted the Nauruan Department of Justice and Border Protection asking to return.
“The US — it’s a difficult place to live, a lot of competition for work and jobs,” he said. “They call America the land of the free and all that, but [there are] a lot of catches and they soon find out that it’s not that easy.”
Fleur Wood, of the Aussie Diaspora Steps Up network, which is in contact with about 200 refugees from Nauru to help them adapt to life in the US, said the few she knew of who had expressed interest in returning to the island were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or were separated from loved ones.
Wood said that she had spoken to three asylum seekers who had expressed an interest in returning, but they had not made an official request with Nauruan authorities.
“Sometimes it’s better the devil you know,” she said.
Refugees who had been resettled in places such as Florida, Texas, Utah and New York State had faced culture shock, as well as difficulties working in low-paid jobs, but the majority were “absolutely thrilled to be in America and are making a go of it,” she said.
“There are a few refugees who have told us that they want to go back to Nauru,” she said. “What I find is that the ones that want to go back have PTSD, health issues, they have depression, they have anxiety, or they have relationship issues, they have family on Nauru.”
“We have one guy who is in love with somebody and he really wants to be in Nauru with her. Everybody’s situation is individual,” Wood said.
The Nauruan government has been contacted for comment. Nauru has been criticized in the past for restrictions on media access in part due to its decision to charge journalists a non-refundable US$8,000 fee to apply for a visa, with no guarantee of approval.
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