Shock over low tally of refugees

MARIKA HILL
Last updated 05:00 23/10/2011

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Refugees are missing out on hundreds of places in New Zealand as the government regularly fails to meet its 750-person annual quota.

The target has been met just once in the past six years, figures released under the Official Information Act reveal.

NZ Refugee Council president Dr Nagalingam Rasalingam said he was "completely shocked" to hear the country often accepts fewer than 750 refugees each year.

New Zealand offered protection for refugees often traumatised by their past experiences, he said.

However, Immigration NZ has defended the low numbers.

The government's agreement with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees allowed the 750-quota to drop to as low as 675 or as high as 825.

New Zealand often falls closer to the minimum mark – and has not once gone over the quota in the past six years.

The regular shortfall amounted to 327 refugees spots that went unfilled in New Zealand between 2005 and 2011.

Refugee Services chief executive Heather Hayden said Immigration NZ did not deliberately let in fewer refugees.

Often those people accepted for refugee status in New Zealand drop out at the last-minute due to circumstances outside their control, she said.

"Sometimes travel arrangements can't be made or there is a hitch in medical clearance. There is a constant juggle of getting the right number."

Bumping up numbers in the next refugee intake would only put undue pressure on housing and settlement services, she said.

New Zealand is one of nine countries that accommodates the bulk of refugees.

Immigration NZ general manager Stephen Dunstan said New Zealand's Refugee Quota of 750 is high relative to our population.

"There are various complicating factors that can impact on the numbers of refugees resettled in each Refugee Quota."

Health problems, such as tuberculosis, travel permits and the difficulty in getting flights can all impact the number of arriving refugees.

Factors in New Zealand can also bring the numbers down. Just 527 refugees arrived in the last financial year due to the Canterbury earthquakes. The UNHCR agreed to the lower number as emergency housing and support services were diverted to the victims of the quakes.

The government announced this year it would introduce a three-year rolling quota of refugees, so the total quota could be spread. Hayden said this would allow for better planning.

World-wide there are about 14 million recognised refugees but less than 1% are offered resettlement to a third country.

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- Sunday Star Times

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