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World Refugee Day time to consider millions at risk

World Refugee Day time to consider millions of people at risk, Canterbury lecturer says

June 19, 2014

Tomorrow is World Refugee Day and a University of Canterbury lecturer says there are around 40 million people of concern for the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, an all-time high.

Dr Jeremy Moses, who lectures on refugee issues at the University of Canterbury, says the number has been rapidly driven upwards by ongoing wars in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Somalia and the Central African Republic.

``While we tend to be very quick to empathise with people suffering at the hands of brutal governments like the Assad regime in Syria or the Islamic insurgent group the ISIS in Iraq, we tend to be much more hostile when it comes to refugee reception in our own country,’’ Dr Moses says.

``Refugee reception has been a hugely divisive issue in Australia for well over a decade and continues to be a major point of political division within Australian society. The death of an Iranian asylum seeker, Reza Berati, in an Australian offshore processing centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea earlier this year stands as a low point in Australia’s humanitarian record.

``While New Zealand treats the refugees it receives quite well, it maintains quite a low annual quota for refugee intake. Even more worrying is the way in which the threat of refugees arriving by boat in New Zealand has been raised by the Prime Minister on a couple of occasions over recent years.

``Given the huge distance and treacherous waters that separate Indonesia and New Zealand, the prospect of an influx of refugees on New Zealand shores seems remote, yet the cultivation of the idea of refugees as a threat to our security persists and maintains a negative hold on many people’s perceptions of refugees.

``World Refugee Day might be a pertinent time to remind ourselves that refugees have been forced to flee their homes and risk their lives in order to make a better future for themselves. Rather than feeling that our security is under threat from such people, it would be healthier to recognise the extreme threats that they have faced and be more open to their arrival and resettlement in New Zealand.’’

New Zealand accepts about 750 refugees annually through the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In recent years, a focus on refugees in special need of protection has resulted in the resettlement of a diverse range of nationalities from regions as far afield as East Africa and the Middle East.

Refugees are given permanent residence on arrival in New Zealand and spend their first six weeks at the Department’s Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre.


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