Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway dumps National Party's refugee quota policy

The Government has unveiled a three-year refugee policy, which includes abolishing a requirement introduced by National. 

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said the Government will remove the former National-led Government's requirement for quota refugees from Africa and the Middle East to have family already in New Zealand. 

"We are proud to be a welcoming and inclusive nation committed to supporting some of the world's most vulnerable people to rebuild their lives and thrive in New Zealand," the minister said Friday. 

Three main points:

  • requirement for Middle East and Africa refugees to have a family connection in New Zealand removed
  • quota for large-scale refugee crisis situations increased from 100 to 200 a year
  • focus on Asia-Pacific refugees to be continued with 50 percent of placements to be from the region

Lees-Galloway suggested earlier this year that the policy would be reviewed, after describing it as "the very definition of discrimination". 

Introduced in 2009 by the National-led Government, the policy has led some advocates to compare it to US President Donald Trump's ban on travellers from Muslim-majority countries.

National described it as an "opportunity" for family reunification. The majority of refugees resettled in New Zealand through the Refugee Quota Programme are resettled as family groups.

The Greens secured a review of the numbers admitted under family reunification for their confidence and supply support.

The Greens' immigration spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman New Zealanders were outraged when Trump's "Muslim ban" was put in place, and "even more so when they realised the National Government had quietly done something similar".

Lees-Galloway said the Government will prioritise refugee resettlements from Africa and the Middle East where "needs are the highest", and will increase their allocation from 14 percent to 15 percent. 

The refugee quota was increased by the Government last year from 1000 to 1500 for 2020, and six new settlement locations were announced, including Masterton, Timaru, Ashburton, Blenheim, Levin and Whanganui. 

The already existing settlement areas include Hamilton, Palmerston North, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch, Dunedin, Invercargill, and Auckland, the latter which in 2016 was restricted to family connected cases. 

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Getty

Immigration New Zealand has highlighted housing as a "critical issue right across New Zealand" for resettling refugees. 

Lees-Galloway said the number of places within the refugee quota for large-scale refugee crisis situations will increase from July next year from 100 to 200 a year. 

He said that will allow the Government to "maintain flexibility" when responding to a new global refugee crisis. 

The Government will be keeping another National-led policy introduced in 2009, to focus on refugees in the Asia-Pacific region. 

The minister said this will "demonstrate regional responsibility sharing", with 50 percent of places to be allocated to the region over the next three years. 

The sub-category for women at risk will also increase from a minimum of 75 places a year to a minimum of 150 a year.

While Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's Labour Party has campaigned on increasing the refugee quota and advocating for refugees, the Government has shown concern about boat arrivals of asylum seekers.

The Prime Minister put pressure on officials to prevent "maritime mass arrivals" in the lead-up to Budget 2019, and the 'Maritime Mass Arrival Prevention' initiative ended up receiving a $25 million boost.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said last month she believes investment in border protection, in particular work to stop departures at their point of exit, has been inadequate.