Government set to remove 'racist' refugee policy, increase quotas from Africa and Middle East
The Government will remove a "racist refugee policy" that discriminates against people from Africa and the Middle East, and increase the quota for those areas.
On Friday in Palmerston North, Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway announced a raft of other changes to the three-year refugee quota policy - including allocating 50 per cent of the quota to the Asia-Pacific region - in an effort to help Australia with its refugee crisis.
In 2009, the National Government introduced a family link policy requiring refugees from these regions to have an existing link to New Zealand in order for them to be eligible to resettle.
Lees-Galloway, who had previously agreed the requirement was discriminatory, said there would also be an increase in the allocation for the Middle East and Africa, from 14 per cent to 15 per cent, because priority refugee resettlement needs were the highest in those areas.
Refugee advocate Guled Mire said it was significant to see the end of the racist rule that had stopped some of the most vulnerable people being offered the chance to live a life of dignity and opportunities.
The rule had been swept under the carpet for many years and he was disappointed that it had taken a national tragedy in Christchurch for it to come to the forefront.
It was a step in the right direction, however, although Mire believed it was contradictory to only increase the quota in the regions with the greatest need by one per cent.
"There is no doubt that I think the Asia-Pacific region should remain but are they [quota] proportionate? I don't think so."
New Zealand now had the opportunity to reconsider the part it played in solving the global refugee crisis, he said.
Lees-Galloway said the Government was demonstrating "regional responsibility sharing" with its focus on the Asia-Pacific region, where 50 per cent of New Zealand's refugee places would be allocated over the next three years.
The number of places within the refugee quota for large-scale refugee crisis situations will also increase from July next year, from 100 to 200 a year.
This would maintain flexibility to respond to a new global refugee crisis, Lees-Galloway said.
The policy would continue to focus on women and children at risk, disabled people and families.
There would also be an increase in the sub-category for women at risk, from a minimum of 75 places a year to a minimum of 150 a year.
Dr Murdoch Stephens, founder of the Double the Quota campaign and refugee advocate, said the family link requirement had decimated the numbers of refugees coming from Africa and the Middle East.
In 2015/16 there had only been four refugees, he said.
While it only looked like a small increase in numbers, New Zealand would now likely hit the percentage, he said.
There was a recognition of the crisis in Asia-Pacific around Indonesia, with refugees trying to get to Australia.
One justification was to try to ease the backlog and stop dangerous journeys, he said. "Basically to help the Australians with the situation they have been dealing with."
Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon said he had raised concerns with the minister about the unfair, discriminatory and racist policy.
The decision was overdue and he was relieved about the changes, he said.
"No one chooses to be a refugee. The average stay in a refugee camp is about 18 years and the conditions are appalling.
"The opportunity to come here is life changing, and resettlement means many refugees who are skilled and have experience as business people, will be given a chance to make a new life and prosperous future after events such as internal or external war have devastated their original homes."
Last year the Government increased the refugee quota from 1000 to 1500 for 2020, expanded the Māngere resettlement centre and announced six new settlement locations and extra support.
The Government will also expand its Welcoming Communities pilot programme, allocating more than $6.6 million during the next four years.
The pilot, led by Immigration NZ, involved ten councils across five regions and the Office of Ethnic communities. It will now expand to 34 sites around the country. Each will get $50,000 per year for three years.
Green Party immigration spokeswoman Golriz Ghahraman said the decision gave New Zealand a principled refugee policy that put fairness and inclusion first.
As a former refugee from the affected region, it was meaningful for her to work with the minister and bring about meaningful change, she said.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) welcomed New Zealand's "meaningful recommitment" to refugee resettlement, saying it showed solidarity with host countries supporting large refugee populations around the world.
UNHCR regional representative Louise Aubin said the announcement came just months before the inaugural Global Refugee Forum and sent an important message to the world - that every country can make a difference in sharing responsibility for the global refugee situation.