New Zealand needs to lift its refugee game

New Zealand prides itself on being a caring, compassionate nation. It prides itself on tolerance and diversity, on being principled and has gained international respect doing just that. So why is the Government finding it so hard to acknowledge we can take more refugees than it is willing to permit?

Prime Minister John Key said New Zealand can only take 1,000 refugees from Syria and claimed that the reasoning behind this is ensure that each one gets quality services provided to them. At the time, Immigration New Zealand, who are responsible for vetting migrants and refugees and issuing appropriate visas, said that New Zealand could take 1,500 refugees. As did – and do now – campaigners and Amnesty International New Zealand.

The Government claims it will cost New Zealand. And it will, but the benefits will out weigh the costs, as it is shown that refugees are:

  • Very grateful to their host nation for giving them another chance at life
  • Consider themselves to be at great debt to that nation, and wanting to contribute as much as they can
  • With investment in their settling and development as people living here, they will likely be contributing as taxpayers in 3-4 years

So, the claims about cost are really a smoke screen for the fact that the Government has underfunded Immigration New Zealand, which has to do the best it can on an unacceptably tight budget. Given the lack of funding and subsequent resources developed, it is not surprising if mistakes are made.

New Zealand, prior to the announcement it would lift the quota level to 1,000 refugees had not changed it since 1987. The increase to 1,000 per annum is miserly. And it does not start until 2018. If the refugee quota had risen in proportion to the national population increase since then, it would still be only 1,080 refugees per annum. Given that there are nations nearer to Syria in much worse condition than New Zealand, who have several hundred thousand refugees – Lebanon, a land only a fraction the size of this country, has 1.1 million refugees. Turkey, Iraq and Jordan have hundreds of thousands each. Some of these countries are war zones themselves.

New Zealand can take 1,500 refugees per annum. It can certainly fill out the full 750 in the current annual quota. The most immediate goal should be to fill out the full 750 – I mean by the end of this year. Out of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees looking for somewhere to live, surely there are at 750 who would meet our vetting criteria.

At the moment, refugees arrive in Auckland and go to the resettlement centre at Mangere. From there, after a six week period getting them established, they are transferred to the locations around the country where they will live long term. The refugees will be connected with members of the ethnic/national groups they are from that are already living there. Then and only then are they released into the community. As exciting for them it must be, it is also a nerve wracking experience learning to live in a foreign country that they most probably had never heard of 12 months earlier.

The Syrian refugees that have arrived so far have been great. Those that have gone to school are excelling, and in some cases doing better than New Zealand students. They want to become lawyers, teachers, doctors, engineers.  They want to give back to New Zealand and become Kiwi’s.

And to the people who say these refugees should not be coming here, or to any other country, there is a simple message. Those refugees would not have left, had their country not become a war zone. If you do not want these refugees, perhaps you should stop supporting politicians who want to continue the war in Syria.

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