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Refugee policy may damage NZ bid for UN seat

Government’s race-based refugee policy may damage NZ bid for UN Security Council seat

Ministers ignore officials advice to include more refugees from Middle East and Africa

Hon. Murray McCully has recently visited countries in the Middle East and Africa to lobby them into voting New Zealand onto the UN Security Council for 2015/16. But documents obtained under the Official Information Act show the National government has implemented a race-based refugee quota that discriminates against people from these regions, undermining our bid for a Security Council seat, moving away from a humanitarian refugee policy based on greatest need and ignoring the recommendations of government officials.

In the seven years before the policy was put into place, on average New Zealand resettled 196 Africans per year. For the three years since the policy took effect, we have taken an average of 33 per year. In the last year, we only took 18 refugees from Africa. For the first three years of this policy the government had aimed to take 13% of refugees from Africa, but only took 4%; we aimed for 17% from the Middle East but only took 10%.

Is it fair to call it a race-based policy?

Murdoch Stephens, co-ordinator for Doing Our Bit, a campaign to increase New Zealand’s funding and quota for refugees, said: “the reasons for this policy are racial, regional and religious. None of those reasons are acceptable. They are not humanitarian and they do not prioritise those refugees with the greatest need for protection.”

While Ministers may frame the move as enabling a regional focus, a paper delivered by the Department of Labour to the Cabinet External Relations and Defence Committee on 26 April 2010 warns that the policy is “against the UNHCR’s global objective to only offer resettlement to refugees with the greatest need, the majority of which are currently in Africa and the Middle East.”

“In 2013 John Key said, referencing refugees, that he is “pretty ambivalent about where they come from”. If this is true he should yield to the UNHCR’s objective that refugees be settled based on greatest need, not race or regional politics,” said Stephens.

The National government’s current refugee policy ignores the advice of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE). A paper from MBIE, on 29 May 2013, to the Cabinet External Relations and Defence Committee recommends that Ministers McCully and Woodhouse:

“...agree that for the Africa and Middle Eastern regions, priority be given to resettling family-linked refugees, but if sufficient refugees that meet that criterion have not been identified, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Immigration may approve the remaining places being filled with non-family linked UNHCR-referred refugees from the Africa and Middle East regions;”

From Michael Woodhouse’s 16 August 2013 reply to a letter from the UNHCR, it is clear that this advice has been ignored. His letter states that cabinet has “agreed that for the Africa and Middle East regions, the status quo be maintained; that is only family reunification and family-linked cases would be selected from Africa and the Middle East”.

Background on quota and asylum refugees in New Zealand:

New Zealand’s refugee quota has not grown since being introduced in 1987. Our population has grown by one million people since then.

Asylum seeker numbers, who along with the quota refugees make up the total refugee intake, have decreased from an average of 300 per year 15 years ago to an average of 100 per year today.

Forty percent of New Zealand’s resettled refugees are children.
Total asylum seekers and refugees are 850 per annum. Total new permanent residents in New Zealand per annum are 50,000.

The full documents detailing the race-based policy and the departmental advice against maintaining this policy can be downloaded from: https://fyi.org.nz/user/m_stephens/requests

Doing Our Bit is a campaign to double New Zealand’s refugee quota and funding. Australia doubled their quota in 2012. With asylum seekers and resettled refugees combined, Australia is now accepting 4.7 times as many refugees per capita as New Zealand.


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