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World Refugee Day marks 27 years with no quota increase

World Refugee Day marks 27 years with no quota increase

There are many people who deserve to take a bow on World Refugee Day.

The 600 volunteers at Red Cross Refugee Services give their time without recompense, let alone all the little costs like transport and household goods to help new refugees settle in.

Refugees themselves should also feel proud. The challenges of coming to a new country, learning a language and getting a job without all the things we take for granted is admirable. Doing all this after the suffering and violence that occasions their becoming refugees is something else.

Those employed in the sector also deserve to take a bow. They work with scant resources, and in challenging circumstances. This year’s budget increase is the first in ten years and may almost make up for inflationary pressures.

But for most New Zealanders there is no mandate to celebrate.

Our refugee quota was implemented in 1987 and it has not grown since. Our population has grown by one million people since 1987. That was also the year New Zealand first won the rugby world cup. By 2011 we had not won it again and the nation had almost imploded. That was an impossible twenty-four year gap.

But as World Refugee Day comes around there is still no commitment by the Minister of Immigration, Michael Woodhouse, to increase our quota. In fact, when last setting the quota he made it sound like he was proud that the quota would not be cut. During a meeting with him yesterday afternoon I got no sense that he was concerned that the quota had not grown in 27 years.

Some New Zealanders will be proud that we’re not Australia. New Zealand is not operating the gulags on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

Our government is yet to condemn these prisons and are flirting with the idea that if any boats are detected then we may then consider buying into this vile system. Manus Island was the scene of the murder of Kurdish asylum seeker Reza Barati in March. It also had a section of the camp that was recently described as a ‘rape dungeon’ by former Salvation Army employee, Nicole Judge.

One thing that has come out of this horrendous period in Australian history is the mobilisation of new refugee activists. Their pressure, in 2012, led the Australian Labour Party to double their UNHCR intake, with an aim to increase it by the same amount in the coming years.

New Zealand has not been tested like Australia has so we simply don’t know how we’d respond if a boat arrived.

Would the government create legislation to send them to Manus Island?

Or would we have a reasoned discussion of the facts around asylum in New Zealand?

Would we learn that from the peak of 2019 asylum applications in 1998 we’ve dropped almost seven-fold to only 324 applications in 2012? Most of this is because we've made it progressively harder for anyone with a passport deemed unworthy to get on a plane to fly here.

Would we learn that in 2001 we accepted 650 people, but only around 100 today?
Or would we tar asylum seekers with the very fear that led to their escape? It is an odd and sad mystery why we are so scared of people escaping from violence, as if violence were contagious.

Yesterday, Chair of the New Zealand Red Cross Refugee Advisory Committee, Jerry Talbot, took the brave public position that the quota should be increased. The facts are so clear that even an NGO, usually sworn to being non-partial, feel comfortable in urging a quota increase.

A cause to celebrate would be if National or Labour took the same approach and entered the election with a stated policy of remedying these long 27 years with no refugee quota increase.


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