JAMES SHAW: New Zealand’s refugee quota has remained too low for too long

23/06/2017

Written by Green Party co-leader James Shaw - Friday 23rd June, 2017

Last Tuesday on World Refugee Day I was proud to announce our new plan to increase New Zealand’s refugee intake to 5,000 places per year.

The refugee crisis may not dominate the headlines as it used to but the fact remains that there are still 65 million displaced people around the world today. Of those, 22.5 million are recognised as refugees by the United Nations; more than half are children.

By definition a refugee is someone who must leave their home because they risk being imprisoned, tortured or killed if they stay. They do not have a choice.

Isn’t it time we did our bit to help them?

New Zealand has a proud history of welcoming refugees. During World War Two we took thousands of people fleeing violence in Europe. In the mid-1950s we helped more than a thousand Hungarians who fled their homes after the uprising against the Communist regime. Chileans who were displaced after the military takeover of their Government were welcomed here in the 1970s. More recently, stranded refugees from Afghanistan on the ship Tampa were welcomed into New Zealand in 2001 after Australia refused to help them.

People who arrived here as refugees during this century are now part of the fabric of New Zealand society. They are our friends and neighbours, doctors, chefs, coaches and hopefully soon, our Members of Parliament.

The scale of this crisis can feel overwhelming, but welcoming people to our home is one simple thing we can do to make a difference.

New Zealand’s refugee quota has remained too low for too long.

Under National we only resettle 1,000 people per year (from 2018). That’s still four times less, per capita, than what Australia does. It pales in comparison to what countries like Canada and Sweden do. And it is a tiny drop in the bucket when you consider how many refugees are hosted by poorer countries like Lebanon, Pakistan and Ethiopia.

The Green Party’s plan to help refugees would see us welcome 4,000 people per year by 2023.

We would also welcome an additional 1,000 people through a community sponsorship programme, following the very successful model in Canada which began in the 1970s.

Our policy will also allow us to help the people who are in the greatest need, by reversing National’s heartless decision to drastically cut refugee resettlement from the Middle East and Africa.

We also want to do more to help people displaced by climate change, who are not covered by the United Nations Convention on Refugees. Rising sea levels and more extreme weather events are putting the lives and livelihoods of many people from low lying Pacific nations at risk. We will trial a new humanitarian visa of 100 places per year for people displaced by climate change in the Pacific.

When people are thrown out of their homes for no fault of their own – whether due to violence, persecution, or climate change – we welcome them into ours. At this moment in global history, it is a reflection of the strength of our values. It’s the right thing to do.