Over the weekend, I was in Auckland for the Amnesty International New Zealand section Annual Meeting. It was a chance to catch up with fellow activists and see what their teams are up to, and to hear from the Governance Team about the progress of the organization over the last 12 months. And as the migrant crisis continues to plague Europe and pressure is brought to bear on Australia over its treatment of asylum seekers, what is New Zealand doing?
In May 2015, the leader of New Zealand First Winston Peters made an unexpected but very welcome call to permit more genuine refugees into New Zealand. Mr Peters has in the past been a controversial figure regarding people coming to New Zealand. The media have not always helped either by generally lumping migrants, refugees and asylum seekers all under umbrella category, ignoring the legal status of three very distinct groups of people.
Since then Amnesty International New Zealand have ramped up the pressure on the Government by challenging Prime Minister John Key to double the quota. He refused. Mr Key also ignored the growing pressure caused by even his political allies, A.C.T., and United Future deciding to support the stance of Amnesty.
Mr Key is very interested in trade deals with Saudi Arabia and China and seems reluctant to upset either by bringing to the discussions a subject that is touchy to the heads of state in those nations. However, there is growing support in New Zealand for helping refugees. It is also a major part of Amnesty International New Zealand’s focus in the next couple of years, trying to address the humanitarian crises caused by wars in Syria, Iraq and South Sudan.
It should be said that genuine refugees who come to a freer nation than what they fled are amongst the least likely to commit crimes. They know that they have just been accorded an amazing opportunity to resettle in another nation. They realize that the host nation is showing compassion and that they need to respect its customs and laws. And this has been well evidenced in New Zealand by the fact that Syrian and Afghan refugees who fled the Assad regime and the Taliban have gone on to study at New Zealand tertiary institutions. Some want to become doctors. Others want to become lawyers, teachers or set up their own businesses. If we show these people the compassion they will by and large become assets to the nation, contributing tax payers and law abiding citizens.
Surely that must be a good thing.
So, why are we not filling up our quota? We can afford more than the 750 people that the current quota allows. But before we do that we should immediately fill the existing quota. Quit mucking around and show the world that New Zealand really is a compassionate nation that cares about refugees.