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Are We As Welcoming As We Think? National Survey Uncovers Kiwi Attitudes Towards Refugees

This Saturday marks World Refugee Day and a new report, based on a national survey of New Zealanders, paints a fascinating picture of Kiwis’ attitudes and beliefs when it comes to refugees.

The New Zealanders’ Perceptions of Refugees survey report, conducted by refugee mental health & wellbeing charity Refugees as Survivors NZ (RASNZ) and Colmar Brunton surveyed more than 1,000 New Zealanders from Northland to Southland. The report shows most Kiwis are unaware of New Zealand’s refugee resettlement programme – and attitudes towards refugees are mixed.

Dr Ann Hood, CEO of RASNZ, says she and her team were disappointed to see that 20% of New Zealanders want our borders to be closed to people from refugee backgrounds entirely and a similar proportion (22%) believe refugees pose a security risk to New Zealand.

“Overall, however, I do think the survey responses are fairly encouraging – the majority of respondents felt positive about New Zealand providing a safe home for refugees. And of course, there is always more to be done to dispel the myths, misconceptions and misunderstandings about people who are forced to seek refuge.”

Dr Hood says New Zealand has a rich history of resettling refugees. Since WWII, over 35,000 people from Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South America have made New Zealand home. Families have resettled throughout New Zealand as they seek a better future for their children and a safe place to call home.

The main reason respondents give for not supporting refugee resettlement in New Zealand is a perceived shortage of housing. This argument was closely followed by the sentiment; “We need to look after our own people first.”

“I think it’s important to recognise that this isn’t an us-versus-them situation,” says Dr Hood. “We absolutely need to acknowledge and support Kiwis experiencing homelessness and food insecurity. We can do this while also offering a safe home for families fleeing war, torture and persecution. We can do both. And it’s in our best interest to do both.”

The number of people entering New Zealand under the Quota Refugee Programme is 1,000 annually. While this represents a very small percentage of our immigration statistics, it also represents New Zealanders’ responsibility as global citizens, says Dr Hood.

“Our refugee resettlement programme is highly regarded internationally and is something that Kiwis can be proud of. As one survey respondent from Northland put it, ‘It’s a basic human right to feel safe where you live’. New Zealand’s refugee resettlement programme is supporting this basic human right – and at the same time, resettled whānau are enriching our communities.”

Key Survey Findings

  • A fifth of Kiwis believe we should not accept any refugees – but more than half believe we should: 20% agree with the statement: “We should close our borders to refugees entirely.” 58% disagree and 18% aren’t sure. 
  • Millennials, or those aged 30–44, are the least supportive age group when it comes to refugee resettlement in New Zealand: The most supportive are Gen Z (18-29 year-olds), followed by Kiwis aged 45-54. 
  • Kiwis are most supportive of refugees being resettled from Africa: 70% believe we should accept refugees from Africa, closely followed by Europe (64%). Of the regions where refugees currently come from, Kiwis are least supportive of refugees resettling in New Zealand from South America (54%). 
  • Of those who support refugee resettlement in New Zealand, the most common reason given is that, “We should help people in need”: 43% of people who said they support refugee resettlement in New Zealand gave this as their reasoning. 
  • Of those who do not support refugee resettlement in New Zealand, the most common reason given was that, “we have a housing shortage”: 36% of people who said they do not support refugee resettlement in New Zealand gave this as their reasoning. 

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