Upping refugee quota easier said than done - Key

Syrian refugees in front of the railway station in Budapest (Reuters)
Syrian refugees in front of the railway station in Budapest (Reuters)

It is easy for Opposition parties to unanimously call for New Zealand's refugee quota to increase, but they're not the ones who have to make sure it can work, Prime Minister John Key says.

All political parties in Parliament aside from National have said New Zealand should take in more refugees in response to the growing crisis in the Middle East.

Mr Key says raising the number isn't as simple as it seems and the Government is doing things outside of accepting its quota of 750 which hasn't changed for around 30 years.

He says the Government is "constantly looking" at options available to it in terms of helping those displaced around the world and while a scheduled review into it will be held next year, he's not ruling out whether more can be done about the flood of refugees from Syria.

"It is incumbent on us to make absolutely sure if we were to make any movement in that area that we could continue that level of service [existing for current refugees] and I haven't had that assurance from our officials yet", Mr Key says.

The Green Party has criticised Mr Key for his lack of compassion around the quota issue, saying it is "clear" he isn't moved by the plight of the refugees.

Co-leader Metiria Turei says Mr Key is "out of step" with New Zealanders.

"A simple stroke of the pen can immediately open the door to saving more lives, but our Prime Minister is being spineless, heartless and gutless."

But he disagrees.

"I can watch a TV screen like everyone else and feel great sympathy for the people that are there. But I've also got to make sure if we take any further steps they're professionally handled and we can cope with them and deal with them properly."

Mr Key says it is easy for political parties, including Government partners ACT the Maori Party and United Future, to call for an increase in the quota.

"They don't have any official advice to back that up. They don't have anyone standing there telling them all of that could work," he says.

Under the United Nations refugee programme, the country doesn't have as much control over who settles in New Zealand as people might think, Mr Key says.

"If we were to take more, I think New Zealanders broadly would want an assurance that they're probably some of the people they've seen displaced at the moment, not that their plight is any worse or better than others."

Even if the number was increased, for example to 1000 as a Greens Bill aims to do or the 1500 Amnesty International wants, it would be symbolic and a "tiny, tiny, tiny fraction" of how big the worldwide problem is.

Mr Key says the Government is doing more than just providing its 750 refugees per year a new life in New Zealand.

The Government has invested around $15 million since 2011 in refugee camps in places such as Turkey and Jordan which has gone to building schools.

"We're not only helping to build out those refugee camps, but we're also building schools there so we can provide education for young people because in the case of many of these Syrians, if the opportunity allows, they'd like to go back to Syria."

New Zealand has done a lot in its wider contribution to the refugee crisis, and Mr Key had "every confidence" the country will do more in the future.

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