Q: What is our current refugee quota and how does that compare to other countries?
New Zealand’s refugee resettlement quota was formalised at 800 places by David Lange’s government in 1987. Today that quota is even lower, at only 750 places per annum. The refugee quota has not increased in 28 years. In that time our population has grown by 39% (or 1.3 million people). The United Nations ranks New Zealand at 87th in the world for hosting refugees per capita. When adjusted for our relative wealth we rank at 113th in the world. Even Australia accepts over three times more refugees per capita than New Zealand.
If we doubled our quota we would still only be ranked as 78th in the world for hosting per capita and would sit between Ghana (77th) and Bulgaria (currently 78th). We would not be world leaders but with the quality of our resettlement services we would be much closer to doing our fair share.
With reference to Syria, New Zealand has offered just 100 places, within the existing quota, since the war began. An additional 27 asylum seekers have been granted residency. Other countries have been far more generous. According to a December report by Al-Jazeera, Germany hosts 80,000 and Sweden hosts 60,000 with a commitment to offering asylum to any Syrian who can arrive. Canada recently accepted refugee advocate groups’ recommendations to accept 10,000 Syrian and 3,000 Iraqi refugees, though these will be from within their annual quota.
Read on for more FAQs
Q: How much would it cost to double our refugee quota?
If New Zealand were to take an additional 100 refugees from Syria immediately, double our ongoing quota, and increase funding proportionately, we would be asking the government to commit to a $10 million total increase in core refugee service funding - enough to receive and resettle 850 people whose lives have been torn apart by war, at less than half the cost of the proposed flag redesign process.
There are also additional costs in terms of housing, education and welfare, but these are not sunk costs: They go towards the creation of new citizens who also pay taxes and contribute to society. There is no present estimate of the costs/benefits of our refugee quota in the long term. However a consideration of the successes of past refugee groups (Jewish people in the 1940s; Eastern Europeans fleeing communism; Indochinese in the 1970s) show that many concerns about the costs and problems associated with refugees simply do not hold true in the long run, especially when they’re given access to a proper chance at life.
Q: What do we know about the 4 million Syrian refugees?
The UN is looking for resettlement places for the 10% of the most vulnerable people from the 4 million registered refugees who have fled from Syria. On top of this there are 7.6 million who are displaced from their homes, but who remain in Syria. These most vulnerable are often women and children, and religious minorities. 95% of these refugees are currently being housed by the five countries near Syria (Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, Turkey and Jordan) and are enduring their fourth winter in little more than tents. Just over 50% of these refugees are children. The United Nations has called the Syrian crisis ‘the great tragedy of the century”.
Q: We have our own problems, specifically inequality and child poverty, to resolve before we should consider taking more refugees.
It is very clear that inequality and poverty in New Zealand are of primary concern to members of the ActionStation community. This was one of the top three issues identified in our member survey at the beginning of the year and we remain committed to doing a large campaign this year focused on helping to reduce child poverty in our country.
We think New Zealand deserves a government which is responsive to all of these concerns and prioritises spending on initiatives that will create a just and fair society. Programs to alleviate child poverty need more funding. Inequality is growing and needs policy solutions and grassroots programs to reverse the trend. And, our refugee quota has not changed since 1987, is ranked 87th in the world per capita, and needs to double if we are to do our bit. We can’t ignore any of these issues.
Secondly, it’s important to remember that while refugees understandably often require support when they first arrive, they also add value to our country. Refugees are highly motivated to build a new life for themselves and to contribute to their new home country - whether in the workforce, as entrepreneurs or in other ways in the community.
People who come to New Zealand as refugees are not just ‘problems’ for us to fix. They are people who will become part of our community and help us find the solutions we need to the challenges we are facing.
Q: Before we take more refugees, we need to do a better job of supporting the ones we already take.
New Zealand refugee service providers do a great job with limited funding, but the area would benefit from more resources. That’s why we have followed the lead of the Doing Our Bit campaign, and called for a doubling of funding as well as doubling the quota. A doubling of funding for refugee services from the current $9 million a year would mean the money per refugee would go further, through economies of scale. Once a quota increase has been agreed, Doing Our Bit is also planning to campaign for the government to initiate a wider funding review of refugee support services.
From the refugees’ point of view, doubling the quota will take vulnerable people who would not otherwise be resettled and give them a second chance at life. They don’t have the choice between New Zealand's programme and a better one elsewhere. Any shortcomings of the current system should not detract from the fundamental role of the quota system in offering refuge to those who most need it.
It’s also worth noting that increasing our refugee quota - especially with a focus on people who already have families here - could play a vital role in improving the lives of refugees already in New Zealand. Separation from family, and the stress of worrying about safety of family members still in places affected by violence and conflict, has been shown to be one of the leading contributors to refugee mental health problems. Family reunification through increased quotas could significantly improve the lives of our existing refugee community.
Q: How can we be certain that refugees coming from Syria or Iraq are not associated with ISIS?
The security procedures for screening new refugees are very rigorous. First, refugees are screened by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). If they are accepted by the UNHCR, New Zealanders interview potential fits and biometric data is checked against all databases from the Five Eyes countries. As long as refugees have been offered resettlement in New Zealand there has been fear. With the initial Jewish and Polish refugees there was a fear of communism. Other worries emerged with the intake of Indochinese refugees in the late 1970s. Time has shown that these worries have been unfounded.
Q: What are the benefits to New Zealand of welcoming refugees?
Accepting refugees is one of the ways that New Zealand contributes towards promoting peace and security in the world. Being part of an international community that values cosmopolitanism and stability requires that we do our fair share to help those who have been forced to flee for fear of persecution.
In the long term the granting of citizenship to some of the world’s most vulnerable people leads to new citizens with a strong desire to do their bit for their new communities. Nowhere are these benefits for New Zealand more apparent than in the 43% of refugees who are under 18. Given access to our education system and a peaceful upbringing these young refugees are as successful as any other group.
Q: I want to help. What can I do other than donate?
There are so many ways to help. The NZ Red Cross has many refugee support services nationwide including education, resettlement and employment support. They also do extensive volunteer training. You can find them here.
Q: What/who is 'Doing Our Bit' and why are we working with them?
Doing Our Bit is an independent advocacy organisation founded by Murdoch Stephens after he realised that New Zealand was not 'doing our bit' when it came to accepting refugees. In his words:
If New Zealanders knew how little we do by international standards they would want to increase our quota. I also believe that if it came down to a conscience vote in Parliament, our representatives would do the right thing and increase the quota. That is why I am lobbying John Key to introduce a Bill to this effect. Key is a second-generation refugee who proves that with the right support and a little patience refugees can do anything that they desire.
We are working with Doing Our Bit because Murdoch has already done a lot of the hard work of researching the issue, getting to know people working in the sector, building alliances with refugee service providers etc. Learn more: Doing Our Bit website, Facebook and Twitter
Q: Where is the photo used in this campaign from?
This photo is by Milos Bicanski, taken for Al Jazeera. It is from this article.