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.

Developing welcoming communities for refugees in New Zealand


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.

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.

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.

Aggressive police or more volatile protests? You be the judge


New Zealand Police operating costs attending protests are mounting.

Peace Action say it is troubling that the Police act as a “taxpayer funded security service” for big business. Police for their part say their actions are proportionate and totally legitimate.

The distrust I suspect is mutual. Many of the organizations that participate in such protests have always viewed Government force – be it through the Police, military or other armed means – with distrust and this dates back to the days of World War 1 and World War 2 when there were dissenters who were arrested. They would sometimes wind up overseas performing non combat roles such as building roads or being a cook or a doctor.

New Zealand Police in reality are for the most part one of the more tolerant police forces in the west. And compared with those in third world countries, almost squeaky clean. All Police forces will have instances where they get the balance between enforcing the as opposed to being outright thugs wrong. It is down to whether or not the the force is willing to learn from its mistakes, make appropriate changes and give effect to them before something worse happens.

It is also true that an individual has a right to attend the event where the protests are happening – whilst I disagree with the apparent need for an armaments conference here, to step on another individual’s equal right to attend is not something I would condone or want to see New Zealand and New Zealanders condoning.

Action Networks (Coal Action Network, Peace Action Network among others) are among the more likely groups to have members arrested. Their stunts are often eye catching, but have problematic characteristics such as damage to property; trespassing on land that they did not have permission to be on. The extent to which one participates in such progress is up to the individual, but it is worthy noting as example the arrest of former Xena: Warrior Princeess actress Lucy Lawless for being illegally on a Shell Todd Oil Services oil drilling ship that was in port at New Plymouth. She was prosecuted and convicted, being made to pay a fine of $600+.

On the flip side of the coin, peaceful activism is an incredibly powerful phenomena and one that should be totally endorsed as a means of righting a wrong. The power of it is shown in the response of some – instead of accepting the message that change is needed, there are powerful elements who prefer to shut down any movement seeking changes in their conduct.

One need look no further than Amnesty International to see a large organization that can use its considerable membership in a peaceful manner to effect significant change. Amnesty International activism can range from peaceful public protests outside Government offices and businesses, to letter writing. Its appeal lies in the vast range of ages, nationalities, backgrounds and cultures. From ending torture and the death penalty to advocating for refugees and prisoners of conscience, the organization has grown a reputation for credible research conducted by on the ground researchers, not from some office in a far away country

Social campaigning has also evolved with the development of advocacy platforms such as New Zealand’s Action Station and overseas ones such as Change, Sum of Us and others. These tend to pick a few major campaigns and pour their significant resources into them – the Bees and insecticides being one by Change; fresh water resources being one run by Action Station.

For some the allure of being seen protesting outside such events as the armaments conference in Wellington, shutting down the motorway during the Trans Pacific Partnership signing ceremony in Auckland will always appear more attractive than peaceful activism along the lines of Amnesty International. But with the allure comes risk – is the activity going to cause major disruption, put people in danger and/or warrant a strong Police response?

I say: happy protesting – make it loud and bright, but keep it non disruptive and be thankful it is the New Zealand Police you are dealing with and not that of a less tolerant state.

Family First not a charity


Last week I heard on the radio that Family First may be stripped of its status as a charity, which exempts it from having to pay tax. Just as quickly I heard a shocked founder and spokesperson, Bob McCoskrie vow to fight any attempt to strip F.F. of its status.

From the get go, F.F. have not been a charity, despite their attempts to demonstrate otherwise. In the eyes of most New Zealanders a charity is an organization that provides social services of some sort, something that I have yet to see F.F. do.

What F.F. are, is a conservative lobby group. It has campaigned against the legislation that introduced an amendment regarding smacking to Section 59 of the Crimes Act, which is commonly known as the Anti Smacking legislation. F.F. have also campaigned actively against recognition of same sex marriage, something that continues to this day despite widespread acceptance of it by New Zealanders.

Whilst Mr McCoskrie may be determined to fight the pending removal of F.F.’s charitable status, there are other charities that have been subject to scrutiny over the years, which took steps to keep their lobbying separate from their social services. One such charity is Sensible Sentencing Trust which was established to advocate for victims of crime and harsher penalties. Run by Garth McVicar, the S.S.T. was formed in response to concerns that there was no advocacy for victims of crime, particularly victims of violent offences for whom there was post-offence trauma and other issues that did not stop with the sentencing of their attacker/s.

Over the years S.S.T. has gradually become more political. Mr McVicar was seen as endorsing the Conservative Party which is well known for its hard line on sentencing and justice issues and he stood for them as a candidate in the 2014 General Election. In September 2010 the Sensible Sentencing Trust was deregistered as a charity on the grounds it had transformed into a political lobby group.

Perhaps Family First can reorganize itself to provide some sort of social services. Perhaps it could follow the example of Sensible Sentencing Trust and establish the political lobbying as a separate branch. Otherwise I support it having its charitable status revoked.

Left or Right, I want my human rights


Left or right, I want my human rights.

Watching the protests around the world as Donald Trump assumed the Office of President of the United States, I was impressed with the huge numbers that turned out. But as I watched, I noted that the message was being lost. Officially it was about making womens rights human rights, but when watching clips I saw mixed messages. I also saw many on both sides of the political spectrum and points in between jumping up and down, criticizing something none of them were actually at.

When one looks at the pet issues or sacred cows – as they were first described to me when I was first becoming interested in politics – it becomes obvious to me that each part of the political spectrum has their own core interests. On the right we hear about how important it is for the Government to get out of peoples lives; how we need to have a tax cut, a strong justice system and large expenditure on the military (whether it is needed or not). And on the left, we hear about the need for a cradle to grave social welfare system; social justice and an inclusive society for minorities.

Some people say human rights are a leftie-liberal pet cause. These are often – but not always – people on the right who have viewed human rights activism at work, and drawn an opinion (which they are entitled to, however misinformed it might be)that these people do not go to work, are .

Others (often, but not exclusively from countries such as China, Russia and Iran) say it is a western pet interest, insinuating that human rights are not universal. This could not be further from the truth as some of the people incarcerated in jails around the world at the moment are from those very countries – lawyers, activists, people who had suffered injustice and decided enough is enough. Without looking at anything I can name four people right now who fit in this category – Nasrin Soutoudeh and Ghoncheh Ghavami (Iranian, British-Iranian), Wafae Charaf (Morocco), and Su Changlan (China).

But  some from the right also use human rights as a way of justifying their stance. One of the arguments Republicans put forward for supporting the invasion of Iraq was to get rid of a tyrant – who just ironically another Republican administration (Ronald Reagan) had propped up – as it waged a brutal war against Iran. Yes, Iraq had an appalling record of abuses under Saddam Hussein – being dunked in acid vats; use of chemical weapons among other things.

It is the radical fringe, where militant tactics are often the norm rather than the exception. Deliberate interference with property and lives, which brings out the ire – usually quite justifiably – of most people, if that is what will make their agenda achievable, is the way to go. But it runs a risk of self immolation. These groups claim to support human rights, but often get regarded as not being trustworthy because their tactics suggest an intolerance.

And then there is perhaps another group, which I belong to. Not comfortably sitting in either the left or the right, and more interested in just making the world a better place, I find that political parties are in all honesty a vehicle to achieve an end. You stay on board and help with the navigation, but if it is going in the polar opposite direction to where you want, you get off. In my case I am staying on, because to make the world a better place, I apply a common approach of thinking globally, but acting locally.

So, left or right, I want my human rights. And so does my Amnesty International group Prisoner of Conscience Su Changlan. #FreeSuChanglan