Govt refugee intake 'not in spirit' of crisis – Little

Labour leader Andrew Little (Simon Wong / 3 News)
Labour leader Andrew Little (Simon Wong / 3 News)

The Government hasn't responded in the "spirit" of the Syrian refugee crisis and New Zealand could accommodate more, Labour says.

Yesterday, Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse announced 750 Syrian refugees will be welcomed into New Zealand over the next three years.

This year, 150 will be admitted under the quota of 750, and 100 on top. Another 500 will be resettled in New Zealand over the next two financial years on top of the quota.

It is expected to cost around $48.8 million.

Those who are chosen to come to New Zealand will go through the UN refugee programme as well as New Zealand's own vetting system.

While Labour leader Andrew Little has congratulated the Government for its response, he says New Zealand has the capacity to do more.

He says the 150 as part of the existing quota "is not adding a great deal to what we're doing".

It is possible for the Government to accept a 10 percent variation on its quota without having to look for more money, meaning it could take up to 825 refugees in this financial year, he says.

"It is disappointing we haven't responded in the spirit of the crisis and said 'even though there's a little discomfort in taking a few more now', we haven't done that."

However, he is pleased with the number of extra refugees over and above the quota for the coming two years.

Yesterday, Mr Woodhouse said any more than the extra 100 Syrians this year "could put unreasonable strains" on refugee services – something Mr Little, who had drafted his own refugee Bill, said wasn't correct based on advice he'd received.

The party has since withdrawn its Emergency Humanitarian Response Bill, which would have allowed an additional 750 refugees into New Zealand over the next year, in response to the Government's announcement.

"Another 750 would put a strain on us, but would be possible at a stretch," says Mr Little.

"It is resource-intensive when we're resettling refugees. That is the commitment we make as a good global citizen, but I believe we do have scope to take more."

He is advocating for the refugee quota to increase from 750, where it has stood for nearly 30 years, saying New Zealand's population has increased and the country has become much wealthier since then.

Meanwhile, the Green Party is calling on National to allow the introduction of their Bill into Parliament which would increase the quota to 1000. It has been backed by all other political parties, except National.

Prime Minister John Key says a scheduled review would take place into the figure early next year.

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