John Key: NZ to take more Syrian refugees

  • 07/09/2015
John Key (Simon Wong/3 News)
John Key (Simon Wong/3 News)

Prime Minister John Key says he hasn't caved in to public pressure to take in more Syrian refugees, claiming he has been in consultation with officials since early last week.

Today he announced New Zealand would open its doors to "hundreds" of refugees over the next two or three years.

Mr Key is taking the proposal to Cabinet, and will reveal details of the move at a news conference this afternoon.

He told the Paul Henry programme the intake will be in the "hundreds" over and above the existing quota of 750.

"It is most likely going to be over three years. We have been getting advice from the UN," he said. "People want us to respond."

It is believed the announcement will be 500 more refugees a year for the next three years.

But Mr Key has denied bowing to widespread calls to take more refugees.

"The problem is the moment I start publicly saying 'okay, we're going to do X, Y and Z or consider X, Y and Z' the pressure piles on. It just isn't as fast as when you make the value statement, that's all," he told RadioLIVE.

He also signalled another increase in humanitarian aid for the Syrian crisis. New Zealand has contributed around $15 million so far.

Mr Key said a full review of the quota, which has not increased since 1987, will be carried out next year.

"Can we take people over and above? We did that in 1999 for Kosovo, so as much as people actually talk about the Tampa, Helen Clark didn't take those people over and above the quota. She took them as part of the quota."

The move comes after heartbreaking images of a Syrian toddler washing up on a Turkish beach and thousands of refugees trying to reach Germany prompted calls for New Zealand to act.

Labour and the Greens are due to submit a bill tomorrow to increase the cap to 1500. Mr Key says it's easy to demand more refugees be taken in when you're not the Government.

"It will be a terrible thing if we gave urgency to reconsider the laws that allow people to drink in the early hours of the morning during the Rugby World Cup, but we couldn't do anything about the biggest humanitarian crisis we're facing in a generation," says Labour leader Andrew Little.

"People want to see New Zealand doing what we've done well in the past."

Mr Key says care needs to be taken when agreeing to permanently accept more refugees.

"You have to work out, are there enough translation services? Do we actually have places for them to go? Exactly where will we house people?"

Many of the extra refugees New Zealand accepts will ultimately want to return to Syria, says Mr Key.

"They've been forced out because of ISIL (Islamic State)… people have been pouring out of Syria for a long time. The truth is, it's been a lot more public because they've been pouring into Europe in the last week or two."

He says Syrians' desire to return home proves New Zealand did the right thing in sending forces to Iraq to train local troops.

"The very reason these people are leaving are because of ISIL. ISIL bounce between frankly Syria and Iraq, and in the end if you want to allow these people to go back to their homes and their livelihoods, which is actually where they want to be, the way to do that is to eliminate the people who are persecuting them and tormenting them. That's why they're leaving Syria."

But as MP Judith Collins said on the Paul Henry programme last week, there are people from other countries who have been waiting for refuge much longer than those fleeing the violence in Syria. New Zealand's refugee programme works through the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees.

"They say to us actually, we don't really want you picking and choosing," says Mr Key. "The UN would argue there are 58 million people in this sort of position… If you want to take more people, then they would say 'permanently up your quota and we'll decide who you get – you don't decide who you get'."

Australia has agreed to take in more Syrian refugees, but Prime Minister Tony Abbott said they'd be taken under the country's current quota of 13,750. Last year a third of that number came from Syria and Iraq.

Pope Francis has called on religious communities and Catholic parishes across Europe to take in refugees. There are more than 25,000 parishes in Italy alone, and more than 12,000 in Germany.

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