Woodhouse on refugees: One drop at a time enough

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse
Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse says per capita, New Zealand ranks seventh in the world for accepting refugees.

That's if you don't count, in his words, "irregular migration" -- refugees who aren't accepted as a part of an official quota.

Mr Woodhouse's comments come a day after the Government announced the first increase to the refugee quota in three decades -- from 750 to 1000. It won't kick in until 2018, after a temporary increase to take in Syrian refugees has ended.

Amnesty International, which had called for the quota to be doubled at a minimum, described the delayed one-third increase as "absolutely shameful" and "inhumane".

Speaking to Paul Henry on Tuesday morning, Mr Woodhouse said New Zealand's record immigration levels need to be considered when deciding how many refugees to accept.

"Last week we were talking about too much migration -- we're back talking about not enough, in a different category," he said.

"I don't think the two can be separated. Once these people come here they become New Zealand residents, and the challenge of being able to settle them in the right place where there's good social housing, provide jobs and community support for them is a significant one."

Per capita, New Zealand is ranked about 90th in the world for the number of refugees it accepts. Mr Woodhouse says this low ranking isn't the Government's fault -- its quota puts New Zealand at "about seventh or eighth". It's refugees turning up unannounced that puts other countries ahead -- like Jordan taking in refugees from the Syrian civil war, for example.

"I don't want to get into a game of statistics, but we can be pretty pleased with what. We can say seventh, you can say 90th."

The Red Cross says there are more than 60 million people worldwide that have been "forcibly displaced" from their homes. Mr Woodhouse says doubling the quota -- which virtually every other party in Parliament has as policy -- would barely make a difference.

"The question is, should we put one drop in the ocean, or two? ...We'll take one drop at a time."