NZ welcomes refugees for first time since border closure

New Zealand has welcomed refugees for the first time since COVID-19 shut the border to all but its Kiwi citizens. 

As the global pandemic took hold the UN agencies responsible for refugees suspended travel for all but a handful of the most critical cases in March. 

This saw hundreds due to arrive here in May and July remain offshore; in settlements across Asia, Africa and South America. 

Meanwhile, the newly refurbished multi-million dollar Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre that in normal times welcomes up to 200 refugees each quarter has been sitting empty. 

Seven months on from the border closures, New Zealand has finally given the green light to receive refugees in dire need. 

A spokeswoman for Immigration New Zealand (INZ) said the refugees will stay for 14 days at one of the managed isolation facilities. 

Once completed they would move onto the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre for about a week until settlement plans could be arranged. 

She was unable to confirm any further details around how many, or when the refugees arrived due to privacy reasons. 

And despite the small number arriving this month the INZ spokeswoman said there were no plans, yet, as to when the Refugee Quota programme could completely reopen. 

New Zealand was due to up its Refugee Quota to 1,500 refugees for the 2020/2021 year - but COVID-19 has put an abrupt end to these plans. 

As it stands only 795 of the 1,000 due to arrive in the 2019/2020 year arrived before the subsequent May and July intakes were cancelled. 

And INZ said plans to makeup the numbers in the weeks or months after the quota programme restarts would also be impossible. 

"The Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre facilities are not able to accommodate a further increased number," it said. 

New Zealand Red Cross' GM Migration Rachel O'Connor said the fact some refugees were now arriving was welcome news. 

"This is an exciting time for families and the Red Cross and I have no doubt the community will give them a warm welcome," she said. 

She said resettlement was a "life-saving tool" for many refugees and hoped it could resume fully as safety and border restrictions allowed. 

Earlier this year Newshub Nation reported there were at least 1,000 refugees destined for New Zealand stuck in limbo all across the world. 

And in figures subsequently released to Newshub Nation under the Official Information Act showed the majority who were destined to arrive here in the May and July intake came from Syria (125), Myanmar (100), and Colombia (72); as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo (25), Eritrea (15), Pakistan (22). Afghanistan (13) and Iraq (6). 

Many of them having fled from persecution and areas of violent unrest had been waiting for up to four years in refugee settlements across Asia, Africa and Central America. 

And with no news as to when resettlement can fully resume it seems the wait has been extended by months, if not years.