New Zealand refugee quota upped to 1000 - 'stinks of a Government that doesn't care', say advocates

Syrian children give the peace sign after a Powhiri at which they were welcomed to Mangere earlier this year.
JOSH FAGAN/ FAIRFAX NZ

Syrian children give the peace sign after a Powhiri at which they were welcomed to Mangere earlier this year.

The number of refugees New Zealand will accept is to increase from 750 to 1000 each year, a decision widely panned by human rights advocates. 

Prime Minister John Key confirmed Cabinet had discussed the issue and reached a decision on Monday.

The figure is short of the 1500 refugees campaigners and Immigration NZ have said New Zealand can handle, but Key said services had to be bolstered to cope with an increase first. 

The annual costs to take on additional refugees would rise by $25 million to $100 million per year.

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The Government was also working on a new pilot that would see community groups sponsor certain refugees, that filled criteria that was yet to be decided on. 

New Zealand's refugee intake quota has remained at 750 per year, for the past 30 years.

New Zealand Amnesty International chief executive Grant Bayldon said the announcement was "shameful". 

"This is a shameful and inhumane response and a stain on our country's reputation as a good global citizen.

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"Effectively no increase for two years, and then a very small [increase] after almost 30 years."

He said the Government was "out of step" with global need and the New Zealand public. 

Arguments that services were not yet ready to cope with an increase were invalid, he said. 

"Of course resources and services are important. What the sector has been telling the Government consistently, is that it stands ready for those services to be scaled up.

"All that's standing in the way is Government support for that." 

The quota was reviewed by the Government every three years, but that was self-imposed, said Bayldon. Amnesty would be campaigning to for more frequent reviews, and a larger intake. 

Double the Quota spokesman Murdoch Stevens said he was "disappointed". 

"It's two years before this is going to be any actual increase to the number of people who come here. 

"I don't even know if it's the bare minimum they can do at this time."

Stevens said the announcement "stinks of a Government that doesn't care". 

"That lacks any sense of empathy. You can look at it an be affected by the scenes in Syria, but even the people who are just looking at the numbers behind this know this should have been increased by a lot more." 

THE "APPROPRIATE RESPONSE": 

Key said Monday's announcement was "an appropriate response".

"Before we take any more, we need to be sure that people have the appropriate support and services they need to resettle in New Zealand, like housing, education and translation services. 

"Therefore, we've opted to increase the quota to 1000 from 2018, after the Syrian emergency response refugees have been resettled," he said.

"When the new quota of 1000 comes into effect, the annual cost will rise by $25 million a year, to $100 million a year.

"It's important to note, the annual refugee quota is just one part of New Zealand's total refugee and humanitarian programme. 

"There are also 300 places available each year for family reunification, and an additional 125 to 175 asylum seekers have their claims approved each year."

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said regional allocations of places within the quota, would remain at levels agreed by Cabinet in 2013. 

That dictated global regions from which New Zealand would take refugees. 

"The majority, or 50 per cent of those, is focused on our local region of Asia-Pacific. 

"However the numbers of places within the refugee quota for large scale refugee crises will be increased from 50 to 100 in each of the next three years, to maintain flexibility to respond to global events." 

REFUGEE DECISION "HUGELY DISAPPOINTING":

The Government has come under increasing pressure to double it, from parties across the spectrum as well as the likes of Amnesty International. 

A 20,000-strong petition to double the quota was presented to Parliament in March, 

Labour leader Andrew Little said the Government's decision was "hugely disappointing". 

"Even if we were keeping pace with the current growth and population, the quota should be well over 1000 - closer to 1100," he said.

"We should double the quota, and we can achieve that - our policy is to do that over two or three years. 

"But we can do better than what we're currently doing and certainly, what the Government is now settled on."

Little said it was "less than the bare minimum". 

"A lot of New Zealanders would think this is just an absolute failure of moral leadership". 

NZ First leader Winston Peters said the figure resulted from record levels of immigration into New Zealand. 

"The question is not whether New Zealand could be doing more for refugees, but whether we can do so whilst under so much pressure from mindless mass immigration policies.  

"Accordingly, its refugee increase in numbers by 250 will end up pleasing no one."

He repeated calls he made earlier for new migrants and refugees to uphold "New Zealand values". 

Peters has previously called for every new entrant into New Zealand to be interviewed, to have their attitudes assessed. 

UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne said the new quota was "miserly". 

"Through no fault of their own millions of people have been cast into an appalling state of crisis.

"While any increase in the annual quota will benefit those who are suffering, New Zealand could have done much better than increasing the quota by a mere 250 people a year," said Dunne. 

He called for the quota to be less dependent on a Government mandate.

"We need to be involving Local Councils, community groups and the business sector, in the refugee quota, which should be reviewed far more frequently than is the case at present."

ACT leader David Seymour welcomed the increase but said the Government could do more to monitor the "tolerance" of refugees.

"This level of increase is very close to where we would be if we had followed ACT's policy of increasing the quota in line with our growing population.

"However, this is also a good opportunity to up our commitment to values of peace and tolerance. Why wouldn't we state these values clearly to the people seeking join our country?"

He proposed making all immigrants sign a "New Zealand Values Statement", similar to those signed in Australia and Belgium.

"Specifically, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and respect for women and those of different sexualities should be understood and respected by all new New Zealanders."

World Refugee Day is June 20.

 - Stuff

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