Australia Sunday turned down New Zealand's renewed offer to resettle 150 refugees held at remote Pacific camps, despite the closure of one detention center in Papua New Guinea which has triggered a stand-off between illegals the authorities.
Canberra has been forced on the defensive by the move from Wellington's new government, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull saying Australia would instead prioritize a similar deal with the US to resettle refugees in the United States, despite slow progress.
The issue re-emerged when the conservative Australian prime minister met his center-left New Zealand counterpart Jacinda Ardern for the first time yesterday in Sydney.
Pressure to resettle refugees increased after the Australian center on PNG's Manus Island was shut Tuesday after the nation's Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional.
About 600 detainees are refusing to leave citing safety fears if they move to transition centers where locals are reportedly hostile.
However conditions in the camp are deteriorating with limited food and water and electricity cut off, with the United Nations warning of a humanitarian emergency.
Under its tough immigration policy, Canberra sends asylum seekers who try to reach Australia by boat to two camps, in Manus and Nauru, and they are barred from resettling in Australia.
Under the American deal - struck with previous US president Barack Obama and bitterly criticized by his successor Donald Trump - 54 refugees have been accepted with 24 flown to the US. The agreement had envisaged resettling up to 1,250 refugees from Manus and Nauru to America, but the vetting process has been slow.
Turnbull said his government had successfully stopped the arrival of asylum seeker boats and cited fears the people-smuggling trade could be restarted.
"Many of those people smugglers were trying to get people to New Zealand," he added.
However, Australia has come under fire from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, with a spokesman in Geneva Friday calling on Canberra to move the men from Manus to Australia and criticizing the offshore asylum processing policy as "unsustainable, inhumane and contrary to its human rights obligations."
"We urge the governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea to fully respect their human rights... and to enter into a dialogue with the men to ensure these rights are duly respected, protected and fulfilled," the spokesman added.