Govt announces emergency Syrian refugee intake

Govt announces emergency Syrian refugee intake

New Zealand will take in 750 Syrian refugees over the next two-and-a-half years, including 600 in a special emergency intake.

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse made the announcement this afternoon and says of the 750, only 150 will be part of New Zealand's 2015/2016 refugee quota.

It will also give $4.5 million for aid in Syria.

"On top of that we’ll take in another 100 Syrians in this financial year, and a further 500 over the next two financial years," Mr Woodhouse says.

"Like most New Zealanders, the Government is very concerned at the humanitarian crisis now unfolding in Syria and Europe that has visibly worsened in recent times."

He called the decision an "appropriate response" and says official advice was than any more than an increase of 100 this year "could put unreasonable strains on services".

Bringing in the extra refugees is estimated to cost $48.8 million over the two-and-a-half year period on top of the $58 million the Government spends annually on resettling refugees.

"This commitment will be in addition to any decisions that may come out of the standard three-year review of the refugee quota which will take place in 2016 as planned."

Prime Minister John Key says images of thousands of Syrians being pushed out of their country by Islamic State have been "heartbreaking" for those around the world.

"The Government shares its concerns and is willing to do its part as a good international citizen".

The proposal was taken to Cabinet to get its approval today.

Mr Key says the refugees will be chosen via existing United Nations channels and New Zealand officials will be heading to the region in the next few weeks.

It is possible the refugees will be placed in Housing New Zealand homes in Wellington or Auckland where Syrian communities already exist.

However, he denied he'd bowed to public pressure from all sides to increase the quota, saying he'd been seeking advice from officials since early last week.

He said the graphic images coming out of Europe over the past week have made other countries change their stance on taking Syrian refugees.

Meanwhile, the Catholic and Anglican churches were the latest to say more should be done to help the refugees, and together estimated they could care for up to 300 four-person families.

Mr Key says there is a "role to play for the wider community" and those wanting to volunteer or help can do so via organisations like the Red Cross.

"What these refugees need most is to feel welcome and safe in communities that are willing to help them settle into and start their new life."

Despite the Government's announcement this afternoon, the Green Party says it will still push on with MP Denise Roche's members' Bill which would permanently increase New Zealand's refugee quota.

While co-leader James Shaw says the increase is a "good first step", it doesn't solve the long-term problem of the country's "embarrassingly low" refugee quota which hasn't increased for around 30 years.

He says there is backing from all parties in Parliament to allow the Bill to be introduced tomorrow, except for National.

"The Prime Minister would be just playing politics not to allow Parliament to debate it."

Mr Key says National would shut down the Bill when it is introduced tomorrow.

Ms Roche's Bill would increase the quota to 1000 refugees a year.

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