Jacinda Ardern said she did not know that former Manus Island detainee Behrouz Boochani was coming to New Zealand before his arrival, saying she was disappointed she was not given a “heads up” by her immigration minister.
Speaking in Wellington on Monday, Ardern said she would have “preferred” it if the minister, Iain Lees-Galloway, had told her in advance about Boochani’s arrival.
“Having said that, of course it is still a matter that ultimately the result would not have changed as a result of me knowing, but yes I would have preferred to have a heads up,” Ardern said.
Behrouz Boochani, brutalised but not beaten by Manus, says simply: 'I did my best'
Boochani arrived in Christchurch last Friday to attend a literary festival after leaving Australia’s Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea last week. He is in New Zealand on a one-month visitor’s visa.Behrouz Boochani: how I got out of my Manus Island hell – video
When pressed on why she was kept in the dark about Boochani’s arrival, Ardern said it was an “operation decision” made by Immigration New Zealand, “as you would expect for a visa decision”.
Since landing in Christchurch, Boochani has stated he would like to extend his visa to stay another month. Ardern declined to speculate on those comments, saying that scenario was “totally hypothetical”.
“He [Boochani] has the legal ability to be here for one month,” Ardern said. “It demonstrates that the system where he has already been identified as a refugee, he has travel documents, he has had the ability to apply to be legally here in New Zealand for the purposes of speaking at a conference.
“He also, of course, is in the process of gaining approval; to be able to resident in the United States and anything beyond that is really speculative.”
When it came to asylum claims in New Zealand, Ardern said, those matters are dealt with “totally independently” of politicians.
“But, for now, of course he is legally here.”
For six years New Zealand has had a standing offer to resettle 150 refugees a year from the offshore processing islands of Manus and Nauru, but Australia has consistently rejected the offer.
Arden said she had not spoken to Australia about Boochani.
“I can’t speak for officials but certainly I haven’t nor would I expect to,” she said.
“I see no need for me to engage personally with Australia on that matter.”
Today, Aotearoa New Zealand stands with Behrouz Boochani as a counterpoint to the politics of hate | Golriz Ghahraman
While the prime minister did not know in advance about Boochani’s arrival, at least one other member of parliament other than the immigration minister had been kept in the loop.
Golriz Ghahraman, an Iranian-born former refugee and Greens MP, was at the airport to greet Boochani.
When Ardern was asked if she would have gone to the airport herself had she had known Boochani was arriving, the answer was “no”.
Lees-Galloway has been contacted for comment.