Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon 'relieved' National's 'racist' refugee policy dumped

The Race Relations Commissioner is hailing the Government for dumping National's "family link" policy that prevented African and Middle Eastern refugees settling in New Zealand. 

Meng Foon, the former Gisborne Mayor who became Race Relations Commissioner in July, described the policy as "racist" and said he's "relieved" it's being removed. 

"It was totally unacceptable that this policy singled out African and Middle Eastern refugees, treating them unfairly in comparison to other refugees," he said on Friday.

"I am excited and relieved about the changes announced today. Soon after commencing my role, I raised my concerns with the minister that this policy was unfair, discriminatory and racist."

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway announced the Government's three-year refugee policy on Friday, which includes abolishing the requirement introduced by the former National-led Government in 2009. 

It meant African and Middle Eastern refugees needed a family link in order to be considered by the Government. 

Some advocates compared it to United States President Donald Trump's ban on travellers from Muslim-majority countries. 

Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon.
Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon. Photo credit: Facebook

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. 

But it was strongly rejected by the Greens who campaigned on removing it at the 2017 election, and secured a review of the numbers admitted under family reunification for their confidence and supply support.

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman, an Iranian refugee to New Zealand, said the announcement sends an important signal to refugees in Africa and the Middle East. 

"Whatever their faith or ethnicity... we welcome them and they are part of the enduring fabric of New Zealand society."

World Vision is also welcoming the move, saying it left people fleeing from some of the world's most dangerous places "with virtually no chance of coming to safety" in New Zealand. 

Lees-Galloway said the number of places within the refugee quota for large-scale refugee crisis situations will increase in July next year from 100 to 200 a year. He said it will allow "flexibility" when responding to a new global refugee crisis. 

He 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. 

It follows the Government's announcement last year that the refugee quota will increase from 1000 to 1500 for 2020, with six new settlement locations confirmed in Masterton, Timaru, Ashburton, Blenheim, Levin and Whanganui. 

Foon acknowledged the "many cities that have refugee settlement facilities and programmes that give refugees the chance to resettle and set them up to contribute to New Zealand society". 

He said the opportunity to resettle in New Zealand gives refugees the "chance to make a new life and prosperous future after events such as internal or external war have devastated their original homes". 

"No one chooses to be a refugee."