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ANZASW celebrates World Refugee Day

The Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW) celebrates World Refugee Day.

Today we honour the invaluable work that social workers across the world do to assist refugees to overcome trauma, build self-esteem and develop their lives. Social workers are active both in camps for the displaced and in the nations to which refugees are resettled.

Social workers in Aotearoa New Zealand are providing vital support to families and individuals that are struggling to rebuild their lives. Their efforts are complimented by the irreplaceable work of charities like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army that provide resources for material survival. As a nation, we should be incredibly proud of all those who are involved in such activities, including the many volunteers who offer help for no reward.

ANZASW honours the struggle of refugees who have overcome unimaginable suffering to seek sanctuary on foreign shores. The Association particularly offers its solidarity to ethnic, religious and cultural minorities, women and members of the LGBTIQ community who are being persecuted simply for their identity or orientation. We also commend activists who fight for the rights of these communities, many of whom have to seek refuge themselves as a result of their courageous defence of rights.

ANZASW is mindful of the fact that last year saw a record number of people forced to flee their homes. The figure is 16.2 million, which amounts to 44,400 people every day, or one person every two seconds. With the challenge of potentially devastating climate change on the horizon, we anticipate a future in which displacement and asylum-seeking is likely to become even more widespread.

ANZASW, as a firm supporter of human rights, believes that Aotearoa New Zealand should do more to help refugees now and in the future. The government’s move to increase the country’s previously inadequate refugee quota from 750 per year to 1500 is welcome, especially at a time when other countries are closing their borders; however, we agree with groups like Amnesty International that the figure should be extended further.

ANZASW also believes that Aotearoa New Zealand should reckon seriously with the fact that many of our Pacific neighbours such as Vanuatu, Nauru and Tuvalu are threatened with submersion by the ocean as a result of climate change. Given these long-term challenges we should prepare for scenarios in which we will be a position to save the lives of many people by incorporating them into our society.

Anyone can become a refugee. All it would take is for a disaster to befall a country or for persecution to occur. Refugees are not to blame for their circumstances; rather, they are victims whose ability to fulfil their rights and needs are threatened by forces beyond their control. Any of us in a similar situation would hope that we could be treated with compassion and receive help.

Apart from the moral argument for having a generous refugee policy, there are good reasons to think favourably about refugees from an economic perspective; evidence shows that refugees are major contributors the societies that shelter them.

Financial news outlet Bloomberg has estimated that Germany’s policy of opening its doors to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees would contribute to a 0.2% growth in the economy, while studies in the United States have shown that refugees often perform better than migrants in adding value to the economy.

Academics and economists in Aotearoa New Zealand have firmly argued that refugees are a net asset.

In the United States a long list of refugees have become successful innovators and entrepreneurs, making priceless contributions to the market and society. These include people like Google founder Sergey Brin, WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum, Paypal co-founder Max Levchin as well as billionaire philanthropist George Soros and successful businessmen Thomas Peterffy and Steven Udvar-Hazy.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, many successful individuals are from first or second generation refugee families, including Member of Parliament Golraz Ghahraman, historian Ann Beaglehole, Rez Gardi, young New Zealander of the year 2017, and former Prime Minister John Key.

Given the above, it makes moral and economic sense for Aotearoa New Zealand to increase the refugee quota further. We also encourage the government to consider increasing its engagement with and funding for programmes that assist refugees overseas, in particular to help children who are often denied of access to the basics in life as they await resettlement. Growing up with deprivation in refugee camps can have life-long consequences.

We are a generous nation. The worsening plight of refugees worldwide represents a serious test of our moral fibre; yet this crisis also represents an opportunity to enrich our societies while making a transformative difference in the lives of the victims.

ANZASW hopes that Aotearoa New Zealand meets this challenge with humanity, magnanimity and resolve.

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