NZ and refugees – Syria and Australia

Today the government announced they will be accepting 100 Syrian refugees over 2 years out of the existing 750 pa quota plus or minus 10%.

This is good news. New Zealand was standing out as the only anglo speaking country not to offer refuge to Syrian refugees.

In September the UNHCR announced NZ would be one of 17 nations resettling Syrian refugees. A month later the list had dropped to 16 and NZ was not included. I don’t know what happened but it is good to have it sorted.

In the words of the NZ Refugee Council, who praised today’s announcement. “The Syrian civil war is the world humanitarian crisis of this generation and not unlike the Killing Fields of Cambodia during the Southeast Asian crisis of the 1980’s.”

NZ has designated 50 places for UNHCR requests, so I imagine this year’s refugees will come from that allocation. We’re also scheduled to take Iraqi and Palestinian refugees from Syria over the next three years but considering safety and processing issues it is unclear what is happening with this allocation.

NZ has a block on new resettlement refugees from the Middle East and Africa unless they already have family here – except in cases of Ministerial discretion. This goes against the UNHCR request that countries prioritise on the basis of need not geo-political interests. The limit to family reunification was somewhat relaxed in 2013, but against departmental advice it was not dropped: instead they opted for so Ministers Woodhouse, McCully or Key could chose to take new refugees from that area if family reunification didn’t meet the regional quota.

Australia and off shore processing
Despite Australia accepting 5 times as many refugees per head of population as NZ they have a deeply disturbing approach to asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat. They send them to detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru. This approach and the conditions of the camps have been widely criticised. The most recent report on conditions on Nauru were described by Amnesty International as “a toxic mix of uncertainty, unlawful detention and inhumane conditions.” Not surprisingly there have been riots in the camps on Nauru.

Last year John Key made an agreement with Julia Gillard, thankfully overturned by Abbot, for NZ to take refugees from these camps and in return if we had a mass arrival there was the possibility that we could send asylum seekers there to be processed. I questioned John Key about this in the House and he chose to take Julia Gillard’s word that the camp conditions were fine.

Over the last couple of weeks the situation on Nauru has escalated as the magistrate who was about to hear the case of the detainees charged from the riots, who had made strong presentations to the Nauru government about the conditions in the camps, was illegally deported and the Chief Justice, who lives in Australia was denied an entry visa to try and sort out the situation, and visas for journalists have escalated in cost from $200 to $8000.

Australia has so far chosen not to make any strong statements about this situation. This is in comparison to very strong statements to Fiji which have always been justified in part by the importance of the rule of law in regional security.

This Friday John Key will be going to Australia for bi-lateral meetings with Tony Abbot. Refugee and asylum seeker issues should be on the agenda. The Prime Minister has not identified it as a priority though saying there’s a wide ranging agenda.
“In terms of capital investment, trade with each other, we’re both co-hosting the Cricket World Cup next year, we’re bother be commemorating a hundred years of the Gallipoli campaign.”

To promote and protect human rights and regional security NZ needs to call for the closure of the camps in Manus and Nauru.

2 Comments Posted

  1. The processing and settlement of refugees is vital for the wellbeing of not only them, but also Kiwis. Are Maori meaningfully involved with the care and manaaki of the refugees into Aotearoa? Being a small country, and few people, it is easily possible

  2. Worked for the Church Commission for Refugees from 1980-1990 at Mangere

    Cannot see why we have kept to a paltry 750 chosen by the UN all this time yet allowed much larger numbers of people with doubtful backgrounds

    as immigrants because they are wealthy. .

    As for Mr Key being mean about asylum seekers, tell him to ask his mother

    who gave her and his granny asylum from Hitler?

    Sad, you would think he would welcome refugees being a descendent of one.

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