Churches: 'We could take 1200 refugees'

A Syrian refugee holds her son as they wait to board a bus at the port of Piraeus, near Athens (Reuters)
A Syrian refugee holds her son as they wait to board a bus at the port of Piraeus, near Athens (Reuters)

The Catholic and Anglican churches say they'd be able to look after 300 Syrian refugee families over and above New Zealand's quota and whatever Prime Minister John Key announces today.

Cardinal John Dew of the Roman Catholic Church and Archbishop Philip Richardson of the Anglican Church held a joint press conference at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Wellington this morning.

They said the response from those in both churches in the past few days has led them to believe they could help resettle 300 four-person families into New Zealand communities.

Both churches have about 650 parishes across the country between them and Cardinal Dew says even if half of those agreed to take people on, it would make a difference.

"That is an enormous number of people that we believe we can provide for," he says.

They believe New Zealand has a record of helping refugees, including those from Poland and Vietnam, that must continue.

"We're confident we can have a number of people we can look after and provide for at this time of great crisis."

Mr Key announced this morning he would take a proposal to Cabinet today which would see hundreds of Syrian refugees welcomed into New Zealand over the next few years above the existing 750 quota.

However, talk of raising that quota will be part of a review next year.

"We're really grateful the Government is prepared to step up, we are saying we believe though the churches we could handle even more," Cardinal Dew says.

The plight of the refugees has stirred people into action, he says.

"They're seeing other human beings drive from their homes, we've seen people struggling. We've seen people really struggling. We're all very familiar with the horrific images. People want to help others."

Archbishop Richardson says the diocese of Auckland and Christchurch had their synod at the weekend and both unanimously agreed to support a "much larger" refugee quota that hasn't changed for around 30 years.

"If those representative bodies are stepping up in that kind of way, then that underscores and undergirds our optimism that we can support a larger number that is being talked about at the moment," he says.

"It's about breaking it down to a single family, a single family in one community and how you would support a single family. That is not a difficult thing, that's just a response of the heart, a response of compassion. New Zealanders are good at that."

Through church organisations, there would be the ability and infrastructure to support the families with clothing, bedding, furniture and food, Cardinal Dew says.

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