Govt to up refugee quota

Syrian refugees, stuck between borders, wait to cross into Jordan (Reuters)
Syrian refugees, stuck between borders, wait to cross into Jordan (Reuters)

Two-hundred-and-fifty more refugees will be allowed into New Zealand every year following the first increase to the country's quota in nearly 30 years.

Prime Minister John Key announced on Monday afternoon the refugee quota will rise to 1000, up from 750, which has been in place since 1987. The new quota will begin in 2018.

The change comes as part of the Government's normal three-year review of the refugee quota.

"We take our international humanitarian obligations and responsibilities seriously and today's increase demonstrates our commitment to meet the needs of some of the world's most vulnerable people," said Mr Key.

The new quota will cost the Government $100 million a year, up $25 million.

The ACT Party welcomes the increase, though if the party had its way, the Government should ensure those arriving "share our peaceful values".

"It will make a huge difference in the lives of these individuals, who have the potential to contribute greatly to this country," leader David Seymour says.

"However, this is also a good opportunity to up our commitment to values of peace and tolerance. Why wouldn't we state these values clearly to the people seeking join our country?"

New Zealand should follow countries like Australia and Belgium who require immigrants to sign a statement of commitment to national values, he says.

This would include freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, respect for women and different sexualities.

There had been calls from Opposition parties and humanitarian groups like Amnesty International to double the quota.

Labour leader Andrew Little visited Jordan's Zaatari refugee camp in April, which has become the home of around 80,000 Syrians who've fled the conflict in their homeland.

Govt to up refugee quota

Labour leader Andrew Little in the Zaatari refugee camp (Supplied)

There he committed Labour to doubling the refugee quota to 1500, which he conceded would be a "drop in the ocean" in terms of the millions of displaced people worldwide, but said the figure was about right for the country's contribution.

The announcement comes just a week before World Refugee Day on June 20.

Last year, the Government announced an emergency, one-off intake of 750 Syrian refugees, 600 of whom were on top of the current quota. In April, 13 Syrian families were welcomed to Dunedin.

Mr Key says the delayed start of the new quota will allow for these latest refugees to settle in and to make sure there's enough support for them.

"Before we take any more, we need to be sure people have the appropriate support and services they need to resettle in New Zealand like housing, health, education and translation services."

Mr Key was quick to point out the quota is just one thing New Zealand is doing to help the plight of refugees. There are also 300 places a year for family reunification and between 125-175 asylum seekers who have their applications approved each year.

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse says the Government will now start a process to select another refugee settlement location on top of the existing six areas. An announcement on that will be made next year.

Govt to up refugee quota

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse (Simon Wong / Newshub.)

"While the quantity of the refugees is important -- it's certainly been a matter of public interest -- the Government has long been concerned about the quality of settlement outcomes."

He says research done as part of the 2012 review showed many adult refugees weren't in paid employment, and their children don't achieve as well in education as other residents.

"We remain committed to investing in the quality of those settlement outcomes at the same time as increasing the quantity."

In terms of doubling the quota, Mr Woodhouse says it's not enough to "relocate them into a strange country and then leave them".

There's been disappointment from those pushing the campaign to double the quota, but Mr Woodhouse says for some any figure will never be the right one.

Murdoch Stevens, the man behind the 'Double the Quota' campaign, says the increase doesn't take into account New Zealand's population growth since 1987.

"Just to increase it to 1000 because it's a round number seems calculating rather than caring", he says.

"It seems sad and a terrible thing for people like my friends from Syria, who are desperately trying to get out and for whom it's a matter of life and death."

The decision has left him "sad and embarrassed and a little bit ashamed" of the Government, which Mr Stevens believes every other Kiwi will feel.

It's a feeling also shared by Amnesty International which says it is "absolutely shameful" considering the current crisis is the biggest seen since World War II.

"This is a shameful and inhumane response and a stain on our country's reputation as a good global citizen," executive director Grant Bayldon says.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters believes the figure "will end up pleasing no one", and is a result of the Government's "embarrassment" over high immigration.

United Future leader Peter Dunne's called the increase "miserly" and now wants the quota to be less about a Government-mandated number and more about one which involves community groups, local councils and businesses.

The Green Party believes the Government's contribution to the refugee crisis is the "bare minimum", though Labour's gone a step further, saying it's less than that.

Immigration spokeswoman Denise Roche says an important opportunity has been missed, and the decision shows the "lack of heart on the issues that matter".

Mr Little says New Zealand can support 1500 refugees and still keep the same quality of service.

"This is less than the bare minimum. A lot of New Zealanders will think it's an absolute failure of moral leadership," he says.

He says refugees are vetted by the United Nations' refugee agency (UNHCR) as well as New Zealand authorities including the Five Eyes network, so was confident they'd be "fully committed" to living their new lives. 

But Mr Woodhouse maintains that it is more about the quality of service versus the quantity of refugees.

"I don't think for some it'll ever be enough. We've had a very strong call for doubling the quota, but as some of the advocates I've talked to care a little less about the quality of those settlement outcomes.

"The Government can't be as simplistic as that."

Worldwide, New Zealand has been languishing in terms of the number of refugees it takes in per capita. UNHCR figures show per 1000 people, New Zealand takes in 0.3 refugees, compared to 1.51 in Australia, 4.2 in Canada and 14.77 in Sweden.

Govt to up refugee quota

 

Australia currently accepts 13,500, but the opposition Labor Party has proposed a gradual increase in the country's intake to 18,750 in 2018-19. After that, it would increase the figure by 1200 each year until 2025, which would take the number to 27,000.

But that plan has been rubbished by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, who says Labor is playing politics, that "there's no science" in doubling their quota and it would put a strain on resources.

Govt to up refugee quota

 

The UNHCR says there were 19.5 million refugees worldwide as of June 2015. This is made up of 14.4 million people under the UNHCR mandate, while the rest were Palestinian refugees registered by the UN Relief and Works Agency.

Of those, 51 percent were under 18, 46 percent were between 18 and 59, while the rest were over 60.

Govt to up refugee quota

The majority (53 percent) of those in the UNHCR programme were from three countries -- Somalia, Afghanistan and Syria.

Govt to up refugee quota

 

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