Community groups protest at Parliament on World Refugee Day
Double the Quota: Community groups protest at Parliament on World Refugee Day and tell politicians we can do better
World Refugee Day gathering celebrates the contribution of immigrants and highlights New Zealand’s low refugee intake
June 20, Wellington: More than 100 people from Wellington’s faith, migrant and refugee support communities will unite today with the Doing Our Bit campaign at parliament to recognise World Refugee Day and call on politicians to double New Zealand’s refugee quota.
The protest on parliament grounds is being held to celebrate the contribution of refugees and to ask MPs from all parties to pledge their support for an immediate doubling of the refugee quota from 750 to 1500.
Bit campaign founder Murdoch Stephens will speak alongside
Bishop of Wellington Justin Duckworth, Syrian refugee Karam
Shaar, and representatives from the Labour, Greens, United
Future, Māori and Opportunities parties.
All political parties were extended the invitation to attend and speak at the event.
The protest event marks the launch of the 'Politicians Pledge to double the quota' election campaign by Doing Our Bit. The campaign will see Stephens visit 17 towns and cities in New Zealand in July and August to build support for doubling the quota while also inviting MPs and candidates up and down the country to sign the pledge.
A broad cross section of community groups have been pushing for the government to increase the refugee intake as a result of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Africa and the Middle East. In 2015, the government announced an extra 600 Syrian’s will be taken in over the next two and a half years on top of the yearly 750 allowance.
Stephens says that while this was a positive start, it does not go far enough and MPs should use their influence to directly help those fleeing war and persecution.
"We're celebrating World Refugee Day but we're also celebrating those politicians who are willing to take a principled stand. What is the principle? It's simple: we should take a fair number of refugees. Doubling the quota doesn't make us a world leader, but just puts us on track to a fair quota," Stephens says.
"The pledge puts the focus on the individual MP and their communities, not party politicking. We've seen MPs like Chester Borrows from National speak up for refugee protection and believe that if MPs were given a conscience vote on the quota, it'd be doubled in a heartbeat.”
The Anglican Church is a strong advocate of increasing the refugee intake and having the community, including its own parishioners, sharing some of the responsibility of refugee resettlement in New Zealand.
Parishes across the Wellington Diocese regularly help with the resettlement of refugees into Wellington by assisting with the collection and sorting of household goods and setting up homes for newly-arrived refugees.
“Wellington was recently voted the most liveable city in the world so why not let more people live here?” Anglican Bishop of Wellington Justin Duckworth says. “We’re doing our bit as a community so politicians should do theirs.”
“One of the arguments given for nor resettling more refugees is that we, as a country, work hard on our resettlement programme and look to ensure new arrivals are well integrated and that this carries a significant cost.
“We stand ready to help and do more. Our church community wants to do more, give more and contribute. We have so much more capacity to give and to relieve some of the short-term costs associated with resettlement.”
New Zealand currently ranks at 97th in the world at hosting refugees per capita. That drops to 116th when adjusted for our relative wealth. If the quota was increased to 1500 places, New Zealand would still be doing half of what Australia is doing. In terms of Syrians, Australia has welcomed four times as many people as New Zealand in half the time.
A recent report by UMR, a research company, shows New Zealander’s knowledge of the refugee quota is low. Nearly half of those surveyed thought the quota was already more than 1000 – with nearly a quarter (24 per cent) assuming it is more than 10 times this number.
Karam Shaar, a Syrian refugee and now a PhD student in Wellington, says New Zealand has been a safe haven but there are many more refugees that are suffering and need help.
"We were the lucky ones who could flee to somewhere safe, wherever that is. Half of Syria's population is currently displaced internally and externally with the majority in camps living in miserable conditions. I hope New Zealand takes its fair share of my fellow Syrians and show them, as it has shown me, how life can still be great!" he says.
A private members bill to increase the quota to 1500 places is currently in Parliament's ballot in Green Party MP, Denise Roche's name.
All are welcome to attend today’s protest at Parliament. People are encouraged to arrive at midday with speeches happening from 12.30pm.