WELLINGTON, January 19, 2010 (AFP) – New Zealand has agreed to take 13 Sri Lankan refugees who spent weeks refusing to leave an Australian customs boat in Indonesia last year, the government said Tuesday. New Zealand originally did not want to take any of the Tamil refugees who refused to leave the Oceanic Viking, but a spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman said 13 would be accepted — subject to checks — as part of the country’s regular refugee programme.
New Zealand was not prepared to be part of a bilateral situation and take people directly off the Oceanic Viking, the spokeswoman said.
“Following discussions at prime ministerial level, New Zealand indicated to the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) that it would be prepared to consider refugees from the Oceanic Viking as part of its overall quota of 750,” the spokeswoman said.
“As such, New Zealand has agreed to consider 13 UN-mandated refugees, subject to New Zealand security checks.”
The refugees were part of a group of 78 Sri Lankans who were rescued from a sinking boat by the Australians in Indonesia’s search-and-rescue zone in October, as they attempted to reach Australia.