Caritas Dispels Refugee Myths
Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand
MEDIA RELEASE – fOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
6 June 2008
Caritas Dispels Refugee Myths
Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand aims to dispel commonly held myths and prejudices about refugees through a leaflet produced for the Catholic Church’s Day of Prayer for Refugees and Migrants on 22 June. The Day of Prayer falls two days after World Refugee Day on 20 June, which has the theme this year of Refugee Protection.
Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand is the Catholic agency for justice, peace and development. It undertakes development and aid work in Asia, the Pacific, Africa and Latin America, and advocacy and education for social justice at home in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Caritas Director Michael Smith says the agency seeks to foster a climate of tolerance, love and respect for all people, especially those in need. “That is hard to achieve when there are many inaccurate myths and misconceptions about the reality of refugee settlement in New Zealand.”
The fact sheet, prepared in association with refugee and other organizations, outlines common myths and prejudices, and counters them with the realities which dispel them. For example, responding to the myth that ‘Refugees are flooding into the country’, the leaflet explains that New Zealand only accepts a small quota of 750 refugees a year, a tiny percentage of the more than 32 million people currently concerning the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Mr Smith says Caritas is familiar with the difficulties refugees have reuniting their families, compared to the public perception that ‘If you let one refugee into the country, they will bring 20 of their relatives’.
“Many families are separated when they flee danger, and many take years to find each other again. While some may be reunited through the refugee quota or Refugee Family Support Category, very few refugees are successful in bringing relatives to join them in New Zealand under general immigration policy,” he says.
The Caritas leaflet also explains that war criminals and terrorists are specifically excluded from the protection offered to refugees under the 1951 Refugee Convention, and it responds to concerns about the health and skills of refugees.
Mr Smith says Caritas responds directly to the needs of displaced people through many of its partnerships and projects. This includes both refugees and people displaced within their own country. Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand is currently supporting displaced people through development and aid work in Timor Leste; Darfur, Sudan; Sri Lanka; Papua New Guinea and on the Thai/Burma border.
However, Caritas equally recognises that good outcomes for refugees includes ensuring that refugees who resettle in New Zealand find an understanding and welcoming community on their arrival here. “Internationally, the Catholic Church is aware of a growing suspicion and fear of ‘the stranger’. Contrary to much political discourse, we recognise refugees as assets not liabilities, and that our communities are revitalized by their arrival,” says Mr Smith.
Caritas is grateful to the organisations which helped produce the leaflet: Changemakers Refugee Forum, Refugee Services Aotearoa New Zealand (formerly RMS Refugee Resettlement), the Refugee Family Reunification Trust, Wellington Refugees as Survivors, the Canberra office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the Race Relations Commissioner.
Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand is a member of Caritas Internationalis, a confederation of 162 Catholic aid, development and social justice agencies active in over 200 countries and territories.