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Prebble Defends 'Illiterate Camel Drivers' Remark

Richard Prebble Defends 'Illiterate Camel Drivers' Remark

Richard Prebble (and ACT Immigration spokeswoman Muriel Newman) in the house back when he was still ACT Leader

ACT’s Former Leader, Richard Prebble, yesterday questioned why New Zealand continued to accept refugees who were ''illiterate Afghani camel drivers''. Mr Prebble’s comments came during the time allocated for Questions to Ministers in the House and followed questions by National and ACT politicians regarding refugees and employment.

Hon Richard Prebble: I wonder whether the Minister would now answer the question that Muriel Newman put to him, which was this: there are 20 million refugees in the world, according to the official UN refugee agency, many of whom are highly skilled, able to speak English, and would fit into New Zealand society, but this Government insists on taking illiterate Afghani camel drivers and bringing them into this country; what is the point of that?

- Questions & Answers for Oral Answer 25 August 2004 – Question 2

In 2002 a Muslim community group laid a complaint with the race relations after similar comments from Mr Prebble had incensed the Somali community.

In Early 2002, Mr Prebble, reportedly stated that “instead of taking refugees from “desert cultures” such as Somalians, New Zealand should take “refugees who would have no difficulty integrating into New Zealand society – for example, white farmers being driven off their land in Zimbabwe.”

Mr Prebble’s comments regarding “illiterate Afghani camel drivers” came barely a day after a rally promoting race relations in New Zealand. Given this fact and Mr Prebble’s 2002 comments regarding the Somali Community, Scoop sought clarification from Mr Prebble about just why he referred to Afghani refugees in New Zealand as “illiterate camel drivers”.

Initially Mr Prebble seemed bemused that labelling the Afghani refugee community in New Zealand as ‘illiterate camel drivers" could be seen as offensive.

“What is racist about referring to the fact that some guy is an Afghani” queried Mr Prebble before clarifying just what he had meant by his comments in the House.

“I could have actually used another example - which is that the previous government [National] was letting in illiterate Cambodian fishermen who as the record shows never have a job.”

Mr Prebble was convinced that both Labour and National governments had deliberately adopted a policy of taking in refugees who would never be in gainful employment.

“The New Zealand Government deliberately takes refugees who are unemployable. It is a deliberate Government policy and the Government says that ‘we are proud of it’. The result is that, I think, there are people coming to New Zealand who the record shows will never be self sufficient. The National Government did it as well.”

The supposed reason for this desire to increase New Zealand social welfare spending came about in order to win brownie points from the United Nations. Mr Prebble became aware of this during a trip to South East Asia.

“I was proudly told by a New Zealand diplomat that we were taking some refugees [Vietnamese refugees] who were illiterate and were rice farmers. The diplomat was saying that Canada and the USA were taking skilled people and aren’t we [NZ] good taking people that no-one else will take.”

New Zealand’s commitment to taking a certain quota of refugees every year was also tied into foreign policy according to Mr Prebble.

“It first started with National and the Somali refugees – and it was explained to us in order to get onto the security council.” he said.

Mr Prebble took some exception to the suggestion his statement may have been somewhat intemperate given recent disturbing trends in race relations.

“I didn’t make an adverse reference to any race. The fact that there are people like you who might [think the statement was prejudicial to racial harmony]…isn’t a reason for me to modify my behaviour. I was making a reference to the fact that a person came from Afghanistan and was illiterate and had skills that couldn’t be used in this country. That isn’t a racist remark. I wasn’t stirring up racism against Afghani’s. In fact I was implying that we should apply the same standard to Afghanistan as we do to anywhere else. "

Mr Prebble also considered that taking people from the teeming refugee camps of the Middle East (or Nauru) and dropping them into a free-market economy like New Zealand was a somewhat cruel thing to do.

“I have these refugees come into my [ACT] electorate office and explain to me through interpreters the huge social problems that they suffer. I say the New Zealand Government is largely responsible. Taking people into a capitalist society like New Zealand who we know will never be self sufficient doesn’t strike me as being a sensible social policy.”

Scouring the world for refugees with perfect English that could plug skill shortages seemed a far more sensible idea for both the downtrodden of the globe and the New Zealand economy

“I fail to see why the Government is prepared to leave skilled tradesmen in refugee camps in favour of the illiterate camel driver.” Mr Prebble stated.

However whether these English speaking refugees could be sourced from the farmlands of Southern Africa was not a point Mr Prebble felt like discussing in 2004.

In January 2002 Mr Prebble had suggested replacing refugees from “desert cultures” with “refugees who would have no difficulty integrating into New Zealand” and then cited white farmers in Zimbabwe being driven off their land as a good example. A month later in February 2002 Mr Prebble had this to say.

“White farmers being driven off their land in Zimbabwe are real refugees and they’d make good citizens but they’d never be selected by this politically correct government.”

Currently, more than 2000 Zimbabweans are on work permits in New Zealand, many of whom happen to fit the description of white farmers. The New Zealand Government, which has already made an exception to New Zealand's immigration policy in regard to the Zimbabweans by giving them a blanket extension of their work permits, is currently considering what actions to take regarding their immigration status given the continuing instability in Zimbabwe.

Scoop: Do you think there’s a bit of a double standard given the Government hasn’t (yet) taken the Zimbabwean farmers?

Richard Prebble: "Well that’s a different argument".

**** ENDS ****

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