As the monsoon season draws to a close, sailings of refugees and the persecuted Rohingya population fleeing Myanmar are expected to increase.
But New Zealand is facing criticism over its minor contribution to international efforts from Amnesty International.
Amnesty has released a new report, Deadly Journeys, detailing the harrowing ordeal of Rohingya, fleeing persecution during the “sailing season” earlier this year.
Refugees swapped “one nightmare for another”, with “women, men and children trafficked, held in hellish conditions, beaten or killed for ransom”.
The report also detailed fears that hundreds, “maybe thousands, more refugees and migrants have perished at sea than first estimated”.
The report is based on interviews with more than 100 Rohingya refugees – mainly victims of human trafficking, and many of them children – who reached Indonesia after fleeing Myanmar or Bangladesh across the Andaman Sea.
“New Zealand, as a member of the Bali Process Steering Group and a key country in the region for addressing the issue of people-smuggling, must step up efforts to help one of the main populations facing abuse and mistreatment, particularly unaccompanied minors,” an Amnesty New Zealand spokesperson said.
“As part of the solution to provide real alternatives to those fleeing persecution in the region, Amnesty International is calling on New Zealand to double the country’s refugee quota and increase resettlement places for unaccompanied minors.
“New Zealand should also provide greater assistance with search and rescue operations and increase funding to the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, for processing asylum seekers in regional countries.”
Amnesty NZ executive director Grant Bayldon said “The scale of human suffering” was unacceptable.
“People who have exchanged one nightmare for another, have fled appalling persecution – particularly those in Myanmar.
“Only to fall into the hands of people smugglers who’ve put them in hellish conditions, held many to ransom… and then for many of them to have been abandoned at sea and turned away from reaching safety – really it’s hard to imagine a more disastrous chain of events.”
Bayldon said the international community should not be surprised if it all began again.
“It’s essential that the world is prepared for this.”
New Zealand could play a constructive role.
“Unlike Australia, it still has a pretty good international reputation in the region in the way it deals with refugees,” he said.
“However in light of not having increased our own refugee quota in almost 30 years, and still having tiny numbers – we sit 90th in the world per capita in refugee intake – clearly New Zealand is lacking in credibility if it’s telling countries in the region to look after refugees.”
The Government bowed to public pressure last month over the Syrian refugee crisis.