NZ's refugee quota 'could go up further', says activist Philippe Legrain

A British political economist and writer says it's a complete fabrication that refugees are likely to become terrorists, and has urged New Zealand to take more. 

Philippe Legrain, author of the book Immigrants: Why Your Country Needs Them as well as articles for The Guardian and The Wall Street Journal, has come to New Zealand with his crusade to change how we think about some of the world's most vulnerable people. 

"People have this idea that refugees are a burden and they have this negative stigma attached to them," Mr Legrain told The Project on Tuesday. But the reality, he said, is that refugees are beneficial to local economies and thrive if they're given the opportunity to. 

He said there's a common misconception that refugees are likely to be terrorists. When Donald Trump was campaigning for the US presidential election, he said if he won, Syrian refugees would be "going back" to where they came from, insinuating they might become terrorists. 

But Mr Legrain says no refugees that have arrived in the US since the 1980s have turned out to be terrorists. There were a few Cubans in the 1970s, he said, but that's it. 

The United States has spent over $6 billion on the Syrian conflict, US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told Fox News in April. US senator from Connecticut, Chris Murphy, has said if the Trump administration cared about refugees, America would rescue them instead of bombing them. 

New Zealand's outlook on refugees is a bit more optimistic. It takes 750 refugees a year - and on The Project on Monday night, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern restated her commitment to doubling that figure.

"We just need to make sure that when we do that, we're providing all the support and all of the facilities to make sure that we're giving those families everything they need when they arrive," she says. 

Mr Legrain argues refugees aren't a burden to be avoided - they're an opportunity to be welcomed, as they're often young, educated and entrepreneurial individuals with a lot to contribute to society. He says the quota "could go up further" for New Zealand. 

His mother was born in a refugee camp and both his grandparents were refugees, so he knows from them what it's like to be in their shoes. That's partly why he feels so strongly about trying to change the stigma attached to people going through something similar.  

"They've gone through this really terrible experience and they're desperate to rebuild their lives. They're also desperate to contribute to their new home. That makes them hardworking, highly motivated and loyal employees that every Kiwi business should want to employ."

The money countries spend on resettling refugees ends up back in the economy, he says. For example, when a refugee is welcomed, they need food, they need shelter, they need teachers, translators, and all of that creates jobs for the local economy. 

When refugees start working, they start businesses, they start paying taxes, and they contribute even more. That's why it's so important to get them into work quickly not just for them, but for society as a whole, Mr Legrain says.

"Refugees have suffered immensely, but they're not victims, they're not charity cases, they're people with a hell of a lot to contribute." 


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