I welcome refugees to New Zealand – Do you?


New Zealand has a proud history of being a compassionate nation, a believer of giving people a fair go. With an unprecedented number of people having been made refugees by international or internal strife, some countries are shying away from accepting them. Some are becoming openly hostile. But that does not mean New Zealand should be like them.

Introducing the “I Welcome” pledge, whose aim is to pledge to help settle refugees in New Zealand. The I Welcome pledge is an Amnesty International New Zealand initiative that targets decision makers – district, city and regional councillors as well as Members of Parliament – and get them to help get refugees setled. It aims to help them with basic things that might be foreign to them such as establishing a bank account; getting a General Practitioner, helping them build a curriculum vitae, catching public transport and so on.

When a refugee arrives, they are likely to be bewildered, confused, wary. Such different ways and customs, expectations and hopes. Whereas many of them might have lived day to day wondering where their next meal is going to come from, here it is different. Here they will be wondering how to make the most of these strange yet welcome new opportunities and getting around everyday challenges. That is where people who have taken the I Welcome pledge come in.

By taking the simple I Welcome pledge you are committing to helping vulnerable people getting settled in New Zealand. The experience Amnesty has with refugees suggests that they will be hugely grateful for the opportunities and assistance, desperate not to make mistakes and very willing to learn.

You might have knowledge on writing C.V.’s or be familiar with the workings of the local public transport system. Maybe you are a nurse or G.P.; have cultural experience or familiarity with the countries that refugees are coming from. If you have knowledge and/or skills, or simply want to help, but am not sure how, take the pledge.

I am not suggesting and nor is anyone else that we take all known refugees – not least because New Zealand does not have room for well over 50 million refugees from all corners of the world. But there is no reason on Earth why New Zealand cannot double its refugee quota from the current pathetic 750 per annum.

With time these people will most likely become contributing taxpayers. They will be wanting to make a meaningful contribution, perhaps as a doctor, lawyer, teacher, or professional sports person. In other countries refugees have gone on to become world leading surgeons. Some in New Zealand who arrived as a result of the Tampa freighter incident involving Australia in 2001 are now small business owners.

So, I reject this notion that they will be a drain on the New Zealand taxpayer for these reasons, but also because at the end of it New Zealand’s reputation overseas will be enhanced. Our cultural diversity will be greater. Wealth is not all about dollars, though it certainly helps – we think of wealth in purely economic terms, but perhaps one of the greatest ways to become rich as a nation is by giving refugees a chance to develop as people, thrive and give back.

The I welcome Pledge enables that to happen.

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