Refugee quota defended

STACEY KNOTT
Last updated 12:58 28/03/2014

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Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse believes both refugee resettlement and the recognised seasonal employer (RSE) scheme work well in Nelson, but he is not moved to increase the refugee quota.

He met with refugees and their advocates to try to "work out the issues and the barriers to settling them well".

They discussed issues with Work and Income, housing and language skills.

"There was a variety of issues raised and I have plenty of homework to do, like look at what policy changes or support we can provide to them."

He said there were aspects of the refugee settlement programme in Nelson which were successful, particularly what the community refugees were able to create when they were clustered together.

Nelson is one of six areas that takes resettlement refugees from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). Of the current New Zealand quota of 750 a year, Nelson takes between 10 and 12 per cent.

There is additional capacity for another 250 refugees to come to New Zealand through the family support category, where refugees already in New Zealand can bring in family members who they are financially responsible for.

Nelson has received about 400 refugees from Myanmar over the past 10 years.

"They can create a sense of community within themselves and then a community connected to Nelson. It works very well in Nelson. It's really important from settlement outcomes that they are supported by each other as well as New Zealanders," Mr Woodhouse said.

When queried about New Zealand's quota, which has not increased in 27 years, Mr Woodhouse said New Zealand had a high proportion of refugees to its population.

He added that the country offered residence to 2000 Pacific Islanders each year "as a way of getting a way out of poorer outcomes and income".

However, Murdoch Stephens, campaigner behind doingourbit.co.nz, who wanted to see the quota double from 750 as well as the funding, said New Zealand pales in comparison to other countries with its quota. Australia took 4.7 times more refugees and asylum seekers combined per capita than New Zealand, he said.

With the war in Syria, Mr Stephens believed increasing the quota was more pertinent now, as there were more than two million registered Syrian refugees.

Mr Woodhouse said the Government had made 100 places available to Syrians within its quota.

There were limited places for those from the Middle East and Africa. They had to have family in New Zealand already before they could come here as refugees.

Mr Woodhouse's visit was also focused on the RSE scheme and included a tour of Compass Fruit packhouse that has 35 RSE workers employed.

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He spoke to general manager Martin Austin about the growth of horticulture and viticulture in the Nelson region and its impact on labour demands.

- Nelson

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