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Time for Kiwis to start punching above weight in Humanity

Time for Kiwis to start punching above our weight in Humanity and Compassion, not just in Sport:

Dame Susan Devoy calls for an increase in NZ's Refugee Quota

Dame Susan Devoy
Race Relations Commissioner
National Refugee Resettlement Forum
Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington
Thursday 10 July

Nga mihinui nga mihi mahana kia koutou katoa.

Acknowledgments and warm greetings to you all. I would especially like to welcome the relatively new representative from the UNHRC Thomas Albrecht..welcome to our part of the world, the Deputy CE for Immigration Nigel Bickle and the Ian Axford fellow Jody O’Brien. I’d particularly like to thank today the many regional representatives from Strengthening Refugee Voices from Canterbury, Ahmed Tani, from Auckland, Abann Yor, from Waikato, Ismail Gamadid, from Nelson, Netra Kafley, from Manawatu, Chuda Ghimirey and from Changemakers, Yusuf Khalif. Most of all thank you to the members of New Zealand’s refugee community who are here with us today. Tena koutou. Tena koutou. Tena koutou katoa. Thank you for inviting me to talk to you today.
Recently many of us here celebrated World Refugee Day, some at the function at Parliament and others at the Mangere Resettlement Centre. At the parliamentary function, who would not have been moved by the stories of people like Daniel from Colombia?

His story brings home the reality that the refuge’s arrival in New Zealand isn’t the end: it’s the beginning of another journey.

How their New Zealand journey goes depends on many things.

Daniel reminded us that successful resettlement depends on things like:
· access to language

· access to education

· access to employment

and above all else: getting a sporting chance.

There remain many hurdles to get over if we’re going to make sure all people are fully enjoying their fundamental rights and freedoms. The Human Rights Commission supports the findings and recommendations from the Changemakers Refugee report “Marking Time”. As you know “quota refugees” receive support and services that are not available to asylum seekers and reunified family members. We agree with their consistent recommendation that convention refuges receive the same support as quota refugees. It is the fair and just thing to do. Despite the many efforts of communities and successive governments: discrimination, social and economic exclusion and entrenched inequalities is still a reality for too many New Zealanders. Some of our nation’s most significant inequalities are about the right to health, education and work.
Despite being acknowledged by Governments of all political colours, there are still huge gaps. But at the same time there is progress and it’s important to also recognise the positive things that are happening.


The Government’s new resettlement strategy is about improving settlement outcomes for refugees. It focuses on five goals:
· Self sufficiency: all working age refugees are in paid work or supported by a family member in paid work.

· Participation

· Health and well being

· Education, particularly language skills and

· Housing, that is safe, secure healthy and affordable

In addition to the $58 million Government spends each year, work has already begun on upgrading the Mangere resettlement centre. The Minister of Immigration Michael Woodhouse also announced another $5.6 million over the next four years to support new refugees during their first year in New Zealand. So while there is work to be done, we also acknowledge the Government and New Zealand’s ongoing commitment to refugees. It’s a commitment that’s been going on for a while.


Seventy years ago this October a boat full of children sailed into Wellington harbour. On board were more than 700 child refugees from Poland. They were War Orphans who’d survived starvation, war and a 4000 kilometre trek from labour camps in Siberia to the Persian Gulf. From there, these tiny refugees sailed to the other side of the world to a tiny red dot on the world map called New Zealand. Since then, for seventy years, that little red dot on the world map has opened our doors to more than 30,000 people who’ve survived against the odds and sought refuge here. Thousands of miles from home, thirty thousand refugees have created a new home and future here in Aotearoa New Zealand. Thirty thousand extraordinary, everyday people whose resilience, courage and incredible contribution to our country makes New Zealand a better place.

As a Kiwi I’m really proud of what we’ve done in the past.
I’m really proud of what we do now to help refugees settle and build a future here in their new homeland.
But as a Kiwi I also know we can do better.

Because for a country that’s renowned for punching above our weight on the world stage: when it comes to taking in refugees we lag behind the rest of the world. New Zealand’s intake of refugees has remained the same since 1987. Compared to the rest of the world, per capita we don’t make the top ten.

We don’t even make the top fifty.

If there was a World Cup for nations that provide homes and hope for refugees and asylum seekers: we wouldn’t even qualify.

And with 33 million displaced people in the world: New Zealand has the capacity to accept more refugees.

This is part of our responsibilities as an international citizen.
The thing is, I can call on Governments to do things until I’m blue in the face but without the will of everyday people: governments are unlikely to make change on their own.

The reality is that all of us are responsible for human rights in New Zealand – us as individuals need to walk the talk and call for change.

Everyday New Zealander’s have no idea of the challenges that refugees have gone through and still face every day.

Most of us will never know what it’s like to flee our home, never knowing if we will see our loved ones again.

Most of us will never know what it’s like to survive a war in our own homeland.

Most of us will never know what it’s like to put our lives on hold as we wait for another country to give us refuge and a home.

Refugees are everyday people who’ve faced extraordinary hardship – and it’s everyday New Zealanders who need to stand up and call for an increase in our refugee quota.

Another thing I was asked to talk about today was race relations and instead of making up my own words I’d like to quote some brilliant young people who took part in this year’s Race Unity speech competition. Incredible Iraqi New Zealanders, Somali New Zealanders, Korean New Zealanders, Afghani New Zealanders, Maori New Zealanders. Young people whose stories tell us what is wrong and what needs to be done:

“People tend to judge me by the colour of my scarf rather than the content of my character.
Don’t judge me by my physical beauty but rather accept me by my modesty and the inner beauty that I posses as a unique individual.”

“My brother is 6 he is a refugee fleeing a civil war.
My brother is 12 he is a so-called ungrateful immigrant for refusing to read in front of the class.
My brother is now 21, studying as a mathematician at Victoria University.
My question is: How do we as a nation ensure our people are freed from the shackles of stereotype and prejudice, free of the limitations society imposes on them?
How does one move from being ostracised and shamed by his teacher in front of his peers, to pursuing his passion? “

Racial harmony in Aotearoa New Zealand is about dignity, respect and mana for all people.
But as far as I’m concerned the hope for our future lies in our children.
And I’m happy to say that the future does look bright.


New Zealanders like backing the underdog.
My plea today is for New Zealanders to start backing the Refugee.
My plea today is for Kiwis to start punching above our weight not just in sport.
New Zealanders need to start punching above our weight when it comes to compassion, kindness and most of all, humanity.
It’s up to us.
It’s everyday Kiwis who will make a difference.
It’s everyday Kiwis who need to make a stand for everyday families: mums, dads and kids – millions of them who right now are imprisoned in refugee camps all over the world. Some right here in the Pacific.


It was a sunny Tuesday morning back in 1941 when 700 homeless, parentless children sailed into this harbour.
Those children said the first things they noticed was that there were no guards here in New Zealand.
Those children said there were no high fences and no machine guns here in New Zealand.
Those children said there was no more barbed wire here in New Zealand.
So I urge all of us to use our Kiwi ingenuity and spirit once more.
Let’s replace the barbed wire of refugee camps with our own number eight wire mentality.
Let’s be there for some of our planet’s most vulnerable children, families and people.
Let’s stand up for the Refugee .


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