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Tomorrow is World Refugee Day - are we doing our bit?

19 JUNE 2013


Tomorrow is World Refugee Day - are we doing our bit?

On World Refugee Day, Thursday June 20th, Doing Our Bit will officially launch a campaign to double New Zealand’s UNHCR Refugee Resettlement Quota.

Doing Our Bit is spearheaded by Murdoch Stephens, a Wellingtonian whose interest in refugee issues was sparked during a chance encounter with an abandoned refugee detention centre in Iran. From that centre, Stephens recovered more than one thousand family portraits of detained Afghan refugees.

Back in New Zealand, Stephens met with members of the Afghan community and refugee NGOs to gain their perspective on the images. They agreed that if the backstory of the detention centre was made clear and the photos were shown with respect then they should be exhibited. When Stephens learned that New Zealand’s refugee intake was one-fifth, per capita, of Australia’s, he felt that he needed to act.

New Zealand’s low refugee intake is not a new issue. In February a NZ Herald editorial commented that our intake was ‘paltry’, remarking that ‘surely we could do more’. In April, Amnesty International described the quota as ‘tiny'.

Despite being a small country in the middle of the South Pacific, New Zealand prides itself on being hospitable. We are friendly to overseas visitors and we see ourselves as punching above our weight in international affairs,” said Stephens, coordinator of Doing Our Bit.

However, in terms of accepting refugees New Zealand is clearly not doing our share.” Stephens says.

Australia’s refugee quota for the coming year is 20 000 while New Zealand’s is 750. Australia takes more than five times as many resettlement refugees as New Zealand per capita. Most other countries also exceed New Zealand, but accept their refugees as asylum seekers rather than through the UNHCR resettlement programme.

The 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention refers in its preamble to the responsibility of “burden sharing”. Doing Our Bit contends that New Zealand is not sharing the load.

If you look at the economics of it, New Zealand is in a far better shape in terms of GDP change and unemployment than almost all countries that are accepting significantly more refugees than us. We can do more,” said Stephens.

I am not asking New Zealand to Iead the world. I just want us to do our bit.”

The beginning of the Doing Our Bit campaign coincides with the opening of an exhibition about refugees at Pataka Art + Museum from July 13th – September 15th that includes the first exhibition of the Afghan family portraits.

For more information visit www.doingourbit.co.nz, or like and follow our Facebook page.


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