Greens 'delighted' as Immigration New Zealand confirms refugee settlement will resume

The Greens are "delighted" that Immigration New Zealand (INZ) has announced plans to resume refugee settlement, with the first group of arrivals expected this month.  

"We are delighted to see the refugee resettlement programme starting again, even in a limited way," said Green Party spokesperson for refugees Golriz Ghahraman. 

"We will continue to push the Government to lift the quota on resettling refugees and reuniting migrant families separated as a result of border closures."

New Zealand's annual refugee quota increased to 1500 from July 2020, but the quota will not be met due to the global impact of COVID-19. INZ now intends to restart the refugee resettlement programme up again with restrictions. 

INZ's general manager of refugee and migrant services Fiona Whiteridge said on Friday the programme will resume with small groups of refugee families beginning to arrive for resettlement in February.

"INZ has been working with partners on plans to resume refugee resettlement when international travel and transit routes are available. Refugee arrivals will also comply with New Zealand's COVID-19 health requirements," Whiteridge said. 

"With health protocols in place and safe travel routes, we are ready to welcome small groups of refugee families as New Zealand residents to this country, to begin their new lives."

The first group of 35 refugees to arrive in February are the first of a few similar sized cohorts, Whiteridge says. They will all complete a 14-day stay in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ), at the Government's expense. 

After completing MIQ, the families will transfer to the Māngere Refugee Resettlement Centre where they will complete their reception programme and finalise housing arrangements, before moving to settlement locations across New Zealand, which are yet to be confirmed. 

Whiteridge said INZ has been working with MIQ to ensure that the return of refugees does not impact on available places at MIQ and that the limited resumption of New Zealand's refugee commitments does not displace other people. 

Despite the pandemic raging on across the globe, New Zealand has come out relatively unscathed, and in October it was agreed that New Zealand would resettle a number of refugees considered to be in emergency situations, and to reunite families. 

As at January 26, a total of 50 people had arrived in New Zealand under those priorities.

Since World War II New Zealand has resettled over 35,000 refugees. The Government established a formal annual quota for the resettlement of refugees in 1987.

An open letter on Action Station is calling on the Government to include the Uighur people in China as part of New Zealand's refugee programme, amid reports that more than a million of the ethnic Turks have been detained in 're-education' camps.  

Ghahraman, who was born in Iran and later became New Zealand's first refugee MP, says COVID-19 has shown that everyone must be cared for, including refugees who have been displaced by persecution and war, and are now "languishing in extremely unsafe conditions" in the global pandemic. 

"Being a responsible global citizen means looking after everyone to overcome the challenges we all face. We can't afford to let our most marginalised suffer the worst of this pandemic." 

In October 2019, the Government removed the former National-led Government's requirement for quota refugees from Africa and the Middle East to have family already in New Zealand. 

The quota for large-scale refugee crisis situations increased from 100 to 200 a year, and a focus on Asia-Pacific refugees was continued with 50 percent of placements to be from the region.