Stop dragging the chain on asylum seekers and refugees


On Tuesday Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters said that no commitment to raising the quota on refugees had been made.

Mr Peters seems to forget comments he made in May 2015. New Zealand needs to stop dragging the chain on asylum seekers and refugees. New Zealand has an official annual quota of 750 refugees, but some years does not even take that many.

Critics of taking refugees are being hypocritical as many of them did not flee by choice to other countries. Some would have admittedly left because the economic situation did not offer them a future. But many have left because the domestic situation in the country they were fleeing from was too dangerous to stay – might have known Government secrets; be from a persecuted group that was actively being attacked, such as the Rohingya in Myanmar who are being relentlessly persecuted by the military there. The hypocrisy lies in them not wanting any fears of internal destabilization to be realized in New Zealand from accepting refugees, yet often supporting Governments that have turned a blind eye to or even supported such activities in the countries the refugees are coming from.

Yes, there will be the odd one here and there who are not going to integrate. But this is why New Zealand has one of the most comprehensive refugee screening programmes in the first world. A refugee cannot simply just walk off a ship or plane and expect to immediately become an official asylum seeker, though that will not stop them trying. The refugees that come here have all passed through the Mangere facility where refugees must spend several weeks being conditioned for life in New Zealand. Before even that happens, customs and immigration will have looked through their histories for evidence of criminal activity, potential risks posed to New Zealand’s security.

It is also not entirely true that refugees take jobs, drive up house prices and refuse to integrate. Again, there will be a few who will not integrate. There will be a few who commit crime and people will rightfully wonder why we let them in, but they are the minority rather than the majority. The vast majority if the examples I am going to post below, and which there have been more mentioned in the newspapers recently, are anything to go by will be profoundly grateful for being given a second chance and will be determined to show their value in New Zealand.

The understanding of what is a refugee leaves a lot to be desired among people. The idea for example that Middle East nations take no refugees is completely wrong. Some of them have refugee populations larger than the total human population in Wellington. The total number of refugees thought to be internally displaced in Middle East countries is comparable with the population of Seattle (3.5 million people).

Let us double the quota. 1,500 people is still only 0.25% of the SYRIAN refugee population in Jordan. Let us not support any country that wants to continue waging war there. And let us stop believing those who seem to think that one refugee behaving badly represents all.

There are many grateful refugees in New Zealand from a range of countries: Laos, Somalia, among others, and they have been highly successful.

 

Body scanners coming to New Zealand: Overkill or good?


After a trial that has been conducted at Wellington Airport, Advanced Imaging Technology (A.I.T.) is going to be rolled out at key airports across New Zealand.

The civil libertarian in me has some concerns about how invasive the imaging will be. Will it pick up full body contours, or will it pick up just an outline of ones body and mark on it anything that appears suspect? Will the imagery be erased once the person going through the scanner is dealt with, or will it be kept on record somehow?

I personally find it frustrating that other countries are somehow dictated too by Federal Aviation Authority rules. When one reads signage on aircraft, even in New Zealand it will often refer to the F.A.A. To me the F.A.A.’s jurisdiction starts/ends at the United States border and that the authority I should be answering to is our own Civil Aviation Authority.

Yes, I realize that aviation has not been the same since 11 September 2001. Yes I realize that peoples perceptions of safety as well as airlines perceptions of safety were never going to be the same after that day. But why should other nations succumb to America’s paranoid obsession with all things “security” in the context of national security, especially when so many of America’s national security issues are of their own making?

But okay. The flip side of the coin is somewhat different if the supposed benefits can be proven. And Aviation Security (AVSEC) are meant to keep our airports as safe as they reasonably can. If the images detect narcotics, guns that police officers forgot to take off their belt when they went through, the plastic knife that may have been put in for some other reason and completely forgotten about, and so on then, yes they are doing their job.

If it means someone who planned to enter the waiting lounge and shoot the place up, is stopped, then the scanners have paid their way.

Perhaps I should be more lenient. New Zealand customs and AVSEC officers are not like their Canadian and American counterparts. Generally New Zealand border and airport security are much more friendly, polite and helpful. They don’t hiss like snakes, which I experienced in Los Angeles last year. If an AVSEC officer is over zealous, his/her colleagues are more likely to pick up on the problem and perhaps rein their wayward colleague in.

So, the question I pose is quite a simple, yet fundamental one in the context of border security:

Is it over kill to have full body scanners at New Zealand airports? If yes, why? If not, why not?

Let the debate begin.

A ban too far: Don Brash’s Massey University ban


I will call it from the outset. Dr Don Brash’s speaking ban at Massey University was a ban too far.

Given that we never got to hear what Dr Brash was going to say, though we could make a reasonably good guess as to the subject matter, the decision by the Massey Vice Chancellor was not only a gross over reaction it was premature.

The other day the controversial Canadian activists Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux were stopped from an event they were to talk about their opposition to immigration and their activism on the right of the political spectrum. Coming days after Ms Southern and Mr Molyneux’s controversial speaking engagement being cancelled, perhaps the Vice Chancellor of Massey University thought it was just not the time. Perhaps she thought, as she apparently did, that there would be a security threat or some other problem.

To ban Dr Brash, however divisive whatever he had to say might have been, from speaking at Massey speaks of a University that is scared to champion freedom of speech. It speaks of a University unable to tolerate something thousands of New Zealanders laid their lives down for in two world wars.

Do we actually know if what he was going to say is even divisive or not? Suspicions are one thing, facts are quite another – we do not know for fact that he actually had something divisive in mind.

I know a few people on the right. I disagree with them on most things, but not this. Not when the right to freedom of speech however horrible, wrong and improper whatever the speaker/s of the day might have to say is being challenged. That is not okay.

But my real beef is with Massey University. What on earth was the Vice Chancellor thinking? This will be damaging for the university as one of New Zealand’s tertiary institutions. People will look at Massey and wonder if it is going the same way that Berkeley University in California has gone – a place rocked by division and now loaded with tension, split along sharply partisan lines. I do not believe that the V.C. should resign, as others are calling for her to do, but to have a cold hard look at ones professional self in the mirror would be a very good idea.

I do not want to see any New Zealand institution, tertiary or otherwise go the direction that Berkeley has gone in California. For a land that prides itself on civility and a fair go, that would be a dreadful state of affairs to find ourselves in. But it is a direction we might be going if incidents like what happened at Massey with Dr Brash play out elsewhere in New Zealand.

Backtracking on fishing boat camera’s is a cop out


Minister of Fisheries, Stuart Nash is having second thoughts about installing cameras on fishing boats following criticism from the industry. His change of heart comes after a letter accusing him of reacting to hysteria is made known to the public.

This is a cop out. The fisheries industry is simply scared that the many claims of bad practices, maltreatment of staff and non-compliance with regulations around reporting catches will be found out and that they will be made to clean their act up.

It is also disappointing that a party that traditionally supports human rights is back tracking on a measure that will help stamp out the illegal practices that are known to be going on. It will help put some credibility back into an industry whose reputation is going to be tarnished by this if the minister drops the surveillance camera programme.

New Zealand cannot afford to let its reputation as the “Wild West” of the high seas continue. It erodes the confidence that international and domestic customers can have that our fish are caught properly and in compliance with best environment, labour and regulatory practices.

We are a first world country, not a third world country. We have obligations under international and domestic law that need to be upheld and which other nations can subject New Zealand to scrutiny on. Each time the United Nations send a special rapporteur over or the periodic report show casing progress and answering criticisms is delivered to the U.N. Human Rights Committee, this is something that we can be potentially challenged on.

New Zealand needs to understand that people are starting to become aware of issues with supply chains and their role at the end of those chains as consumers. This is why for example there were concerns a few years ago about live sheep exports to Saudi Arabia, a country not known for having a strong animal rights record. The concerns that the sheep would die en route and that the carcasses would be a health hazard by the time they reached a Saudi port were credible.

The same awareness is becoming true of fisheries both inside and outside of New Zealand. It is exacerbated by the fact that our fisheries have boats operating in them crewed by non-New Zealanders. They have reported on numerous occasions mistreatment, non-compliance with records and other problems. The ships captains and executive officers have been known to be hostile towards third party observers being on board.

 

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.