NZ to take in some Syrian refugees

The Herald reports:

The Government will today announce an emergency package to allow hundreds of Syrian refugees to come to New Zealand.

The one-off intake will go “over and above” New Zealand’s annual quota, but will not number into the thousands, Prime Minister John Key said this morning.

The move follows domestic and international calls for governments worldwide to do more to help the 13.5 million victims of the biggest refugee crisis since World War II – pressure which effectively forced Mr Key’s hand a week after he ruled out further measures until after a review of refugee quotas next year.

It comes after more than 7000 asylum seekers surged across Hungary’s western border into Austria and Germany over the weekend.

They were met with cheers, hugs, hospitality and the hope of a new life.

This morning Mr Key confirmed he would announce a package to take “over and above our normal quota” of refugees in response to the humanitarian crisis in Europe.

I think this is the right thing to do. It is being part of a global citizen.

However it is worth reflecting on the two types of refugees, and New Zealand.

Countries generally take refugees in one of two ways. The first is they turn up in your country and seek asylum. We get relatively few of these, because we are an island country. I’ll come back to this.

Over the last decade we have averaged 300 claims a year for asylum. Around 74% are declined and 26% approved. So that is around 80 a year.

Accepting these refugees is mandatory under international law, specifically the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol. If you are one of 145 countries that has signed the convention, you are obliged to take in refugees who have genuine asylum claims of persecution

On top of that mandatory right of asylum, countries can voluntarily take refugees – even if they are not in their country. 20 countries do this formally through the UNHCR with a quota. We have an annual quota of 750, plus refugees can later bring in family members which means on average 1,000 people a year enter through this route.

On top of that you take take refugees outside the quota as Helen Clark did with the Tampa and John Key is doing with Syria.

Now some may argue that because we have so few refugees turn up on our doorstep, as we are a remote island/s, we should radically increase our quota. Now I think our quota should increase in line with population growth, but caution against a massive increase.

It is true that one of the benefits of being a remote island/s is we don’t get 250,000 refugees turning up at our border. But there are many disadvantages to being a remote island – it makes it much harder for us to trade with the rest of the world, travel, and get the exposure to other countries and cultures that you do by being part of a continent. We should be careful about throwing away the benefits, when we will remain with the disadvantages.


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