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.

 

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.

Lauren Southern entitled to her views even if toxic


Conservative activist Lauren Southern and a fellow Canadian named Stefan Molyneux are planning to visit New Zealand on a speaking tour. They were scheduled to speak in Auckland at the Bruce Mason Centre on 03 August 2018.

However Auckland Council heard about their planned live talk and cancelled their show, kicking off a storm about whether freedom of speech extends to the right wing of politics.

Ms Southern has been excluded from Britain for her participation in the delivery of xenophobic fliers to letter boxes. When she tried to get a visa into New Zealand, it was on these grounds that she was originally denied. That is, until a letter from Immigration Border Operations told her that she would no longer need a Special Direction which had been originally recommended by I.B.O.

Australia meanwhile has decided to admit Ms Southern and Mr Molyneux forthwith.

Let me be clear. Ms Southern’s views are toxic. They do not represent what most New Zealanders believe and her distribution of inflammatory fliers, shows an intent to incite fear and potential hatred. However, as the distribution of the fliers did not happen in New Zealand, the grounds to block her entry are not sufficient

For example this video talks about migrants trying to reach Europe from Africa. In it you hear Ms Southern’s contempt for asylum seekers and the process of becoming one being described. She displays considerable ignorance for the reasons causing so many to leave – these struggling, barely functional nations are the result of European imperialism having failed and the former colonial powers having bailed out, leaving their former colonies in a weakened state with poorly functioning court systems, rampant corruption and greedy corporates doing deals with politicians to get around any environmental and labour laws that might exist. Nigeria is a classic example.

However like you and I she has a right to have an opinion and express it. Freedom of speech is something that was gravely endangered by Nazi-era Germany, Fascist-era Italy and Imperial Japan in World War 2. Canadian and New Zealand soldiers, sailors and airmen died in their thousands trying to defend it. However toxic Ms Southern’s views are – AND they are – she has a right to them.

It is her right to freedom of speech that is causing division. Auckland Council might have believed it was acting in the country’s best interests by denying her a council venue. However all that they have achieved is to give her huge publicity, that not surprisingly Ms Southern and Mr Molyneux are exploiting. Whereas she might have attracted a few hecklers at a meeting had the council permitted her a venue and not gone public about it, now a meeting would attract many more on both sides of the divide and probably need a police attendance just to maintain the order.

Doubling the refugee quota in New Zealand; other nations close their borders


Yesterday the New Zealand Parliament came together in a rare, but commendable move. How rare on foreign politics is it to see Labour, National and New Zealand First all singing from the same song sheet?

They were addressing queries from the media on what they thought of the United States moves to separate children from their parents at the United States border. None of them agreed with it, recognizing the cruelty, acknowledging it is not something they would want to see happen here.

So, to be clear, a refugee is a person who:

“is outside of their country and is unable and or unwilling to return or avail themselves of its protection, on account of a well grounded fear of persecution on reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular group or political opinion” – Article 1A, Paragraph 1 Convention relating to the status of Refugees, 1951

And an asylum seeker is a person who:

An asylum seeker is an individual who is seeking international protection. In countries with individualised procedures, an asylum seeker is someone whose claim has not yet been finally decided on by the country in which he or she has submitted it. Not every asylum seeker will ultimately be recognised as a refugee, but every refugee is initially an asylum seeker.

Meanwhile, as has been well highlighted in the media, the United States is closing its border to asylum seekers. Whilst U.S. President Donald Trump will say that the United States needs security, he and his Attorney General Jeff Sessions are deliberately ignoring some salient facts:

  1. It is okay to turn up at the border and ask for asylum.
  2. People fleeing the circumstances in their countries of origin that are making most of these people flee are not likely to have time for lengthy, drawn out immigration processes due to the high level of danger in their country
  3. If the people fleeing are doing so because they are considered an enemy of the state or a target of organized crime groups which can be extremely ruthless, any evidence of attempted asylum may get them killed

Many of the problems caused in Honduras and other countries in terms of organized crime and political instability can be traced back to past U.S. interference in their domestic politics. So, in some respects this is sort of the price that America must pay for past transgressions by the C.I.A. and F.B.I.

New Zealand should have no trouble doubling its quota immediately. 1,500 is a quite modest number to take per year, even for a nation of our size. If we look at the refugees and asylum seeker numbers in some of the smaller Middle East countries, such as Lebanon and Jordan, whose security is much less certain than our own, they have many times more – as of September 2015 1.9 million refugees were in Turkey; 1.1 million in Lebanon; 630,000 in Jordan and 250,000 in Iraq.

The benefits of having refugees in New Zealand is significant. Contrary to the misguided beliefs of some, refugees feel that they have been given a second chance, and so the motivation to return the compassion is great. For example New Zealand took refugees from the Tampa freighter in 2001 when Australia in a moment of election cowardice refused them. Within a matter of years they became contributing tax paying residents owning small businesses, becoming lawyers, tradesmen and so forth.

If these refugees can be of use, so, I am sure, can many many others.

People smuggler boats heading for New Zealand?


Asylum seeker boats arriving in Australia have prompted the Australian authorities to blame New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for their appearance.

It is important (once again) to distinguish between an asylum seeker and an economic migrant. Asylum seekers are unlikely to have documentation for reasons mentioned later in this article. An economic migrant might have left via illegal means, but is this is where the vetting system that New Zealand has, exists. It can help separate those in genuine need from those who left simply because they wanted a better lifestyle.

There are however a few reasons why getting to New Zealand might not be all that those daring – and foolish – enough to make the journey, believe.

The first reason is our weather. The Tasman Sea is comparatively small compared to the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean, but anyone who has sailed or flown across it or anyone who is familiar with New Zealand weather patterns will know what an unbelievably stormy tempest it can turn into. Whether it is a tropical depression coming from the Coral Sea, a southerly storm coming off the Southern Ocean or a big northwesterly rain system coming from Australia, all of these can make what might seem like placid waters, not so placid after all. It needs to be a proper ocean going craft to make it across the Tasman Sea in the conditions mentioned.

The second reason is New Zealand customs. Maybe smugglers think New Zealand is a soft touch and that they will be let off easily. New Zealand customs are not corrupt and nor are the police. That is often the biggest surprise a lot of non-New Zealanders coming from overseas countries get when they come into contact with New Zealand authorities.

Ms Ardern says that the people smugglers are parasites. She is right. What now needs to happen though is that New Zealand introduce minimum penalties for people smuggling – say $250,000 fine per smuggler/25 years in jail/confiscation of any boats seized.

People generally do not pay people smugglers the money that they do, just so that they can get better economic conditions. These people are most likely to be from countries where law and order has broken down, where the Government is not working and might not be in full control of the country of origin. They might be from countries suffering internal strife such as ethnic persecution or civil war. They might have made a stand against a regime that was backwards, which then decided to kill them and their families, leaving them no alternative but to flee.

And what a lot of people do not understand is that authoritarian regimes do not like people leaving because they are scared that they will take knowledge of the regime with them. So, getting appropriate visas and following normal convention is not going to be possible because that will tell the regime that these people want to leave and they might then get arrested or even murdered. The people who have come to New Zealand often came from countries with non-existent consular services in other countries, so this idea that they should have just waited in line is ridiculous when the authorities will not allow the line to exist.

So, rather than blaming a New Zealand Prime Minister with a social conscience for the arrival of boats in Australia, how about Australia look at the causes of them leaving for their lands in the first place. The ambulance is no use at the bottom of the cliff.