Send Syrian men back to 'defend' their country - Peters

Refugees wait for permission to board a train after they crossed the border between Macedonia and Greece (AAP)
Refugees wait for permission to board a train after they crossed the border between Macedonia and Greece (AAP)

New Zealand should be taking in more women and children refugees from Syria, but sending the men back to fight, says New Zealand First leader Winston Peters.

The Government has committed to taking in hundreds of Syrians fleeing the ongoing war over the next few years. Mr Peters says we could help many more if immigration rules were tightened – but not "fit, young men" who should "defend their own country first".

"In a crisis like this, you take the women and children first because you could take more of them, you could do it much more quickly," he said on the Paul Henry programme this morning.

"When you look at the fact we have a number of Western countries with skin in the game, with their soldiers on the line – including our own – it would be reasonably surely to expect people to defend their own country first."

Mr Peters did not say whether he expected Syrian men, with no military training, to defend their country against the brutal theocratic Islamic State, the Russian-backed dictatorship of Bashir Al-Assad – which has carried out massacres and used chemical weapons, the rebel forces led by the Free Syrian Army – which is trying to topple Assad, or the Kurds in the north of the country, who want to split from Syria altogether.

"If you were going to restore security back to the Middle East, and particularly Syria, then some people are going to have to make some effort to do that rather than sit on the sidelines and expect us to do it," says Mr Peters.

New Zealand doesn't have any troops on the ground in Syria. The closest Kiwi soldiers are based in Iraq helping train the locals to fight against Islamic State, and are not on the frontline.

Mr Peters says in the past New Zealand has had a "very credible" record on refugees which is under threat.

"We've taken a lot in the past from the Polish in the Second World War through to Hungary, onto Cambodia, Vietnam. Vietnamese were brought over here, put with rotary clubs all around the country and it was a very significant settlement programme, and we could be doing much more, much faster."

President of Whanganui's Multicultural Council, Vijeshwar Prasad, says refugees would be welcomed with open arms in the regions.

"When they come they are left in Auckland where it is overcrowded. I think if they are distributed evenly, then I'm sure they can settle in very well and people will be supportive."

New Zealand's official refugee quota hasn't been raised from 750 since 1987. It is set to be reviewed next year.

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