Amnesty International calls on Government to reprioritise refugee quota after COVID-19 delays

COVID-19 meant very few refugees were let into New Zealand in 2020.
COVID-19 meant very few refugees were let into New Zealand in 2020. Photo credit: Getty Images

Amnesty International is calling on the Government to reprioritise its refugee quota after COVID-19 border closures meant very few refugees were let into New Zealand last year.

Ahead of World Refugee Day on Sunday, Amnesty is urging people to join their call and ask the Government to end its practice of placing people seeking asylum in criminal justice facilities.

Amnesty International executive director Meg de Ronde says World Refugee Day is a time to acknowledge those "who have had to flee war and persecution to seek safety and to recognise there are still millions of people who are displaced that need our protection." 

"Amnesty International is acknowledging the work the Government has done in this space but is also calling on the Government to ensure that COVID doesn't mean that we're left behind as far as the number of refugees that we're bringing in," she tells Newshub. 

De Ronde says COVID-19 has caused Aotearoa to fall behind with the number of refugees that are being let in.

"Basically nobody came in last year. We're meant to be bringing in 1500 refugees per year after an increase, and my understanding is we've only brought in around 250 so far." 

She says Amnesty is "really concerned" at how long the quota programme has been delayed. 

"We're almost a year and a half behind and we were already pretty low in the number of refugees per capita that we were bringing into New Zealand in the first place.

"The ability to shut our borders has really shut out people that need us the most." 

Amnesty wants to see a "tangible plan" from the Government that shows an effort to make up for families who haven't been able to enter the country under the quota system or the Community Sponsorship of Refugees programme due to the pandemic. 

"We know the global refugee situation has only worsened and those families who've missed out are still waiting in limbo with unknown futures ahead."

De Ronde says some people seeking asylum in Aotearoa are still ending up in criminal justice facilities despite an Amnesty report showing multiple human rights breaches in the process.

"The report clearly established the Government repeatedly violated the human rights of people seeking asylum. We found that at every stage, at the border, the police cells, to prison itself, that the Government failed to ensure basic rights to a fair process. The system is flawed, and as our report shows, causes further harm."

COVID-19 also poses a whole new range of risks to those living in refugee camps, De Ronde says.  

"They're already struggling to get access to appropriate medical facilities and medical care. 

"[It's] not only the issues of borders being shut but obviously the health risks and the increased pressure on already desperate systems."

De Ronde says the public can provide help in a number of ways this World Refugee Day.

"We're urging people to join our call to let the Government know they want that practice to stop.  

"People can also obviously indicate their support for an increased quota and there's actually a new community sponsorship programme being set up that we helped work for that will enable people in the community to resettle people that need safety. 

"So there are some amazing ways that people can get involved all the way down to volunteering to help resettle refugees in the community."

De Ronde says several "caring organisations" will also be holding fundraisers and community hui to mark the day.