Accepting more refugees

A cry is regularly made for New Zealand to increase its refugee quota. This country each year accepts approximately 750 through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

This figure has not increased since 1987 when the quota was established, and is criticised for being far too low.

New Zealand has been listed as only 87th in the world per capita on the number of refugees taken.

Australia, for example, takes far more - its reduced tally last year still being 13,750.

Among those calling for the quota to be increased are not just Opposition parties - including New Zealand First leader Winston Peters - and refugee support groups but also earlier this year the Human Rights Commissioner, Dame Susan Devoy.

The number of displaced people - many are not officially recognised as refugees - around the world is now at its highest since World War 2.

The heart-break of Syria has led to several million alone.

Issues in Burma have spurred another flow.

Officially, refugees are those who cannot return to their home country because of a well-founded fear of persecution due to their religion, race, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.

Because less than 1% of refugees are offered resettlement in a new country, anything New Zealand does will be minuscule.

Then there are the tens of millions of others willing to take dangerous risks to look for better lives in new lands.

But, as a good global citizen, for our own respect and because of our leadership position as a member of the United Nations Security Council, New Zealand can do more.

Prime Minister John Key has been resisting any such push.

In this he might be close to the pulse and fears of many New Zealanders, whatever the majority of publicised views.

It should be acknowledged this country performs as good a job as almost anywhere in helping refugees become part of society.

Refugees, in groups of about 120, spend six weeks at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre before, mostly, going to the resettlement areas of Auckland, Hamilton, the Manawatu, Wellington and Nelson.

They are then monitored by the Red Cross, under Government contract, and supported in other ways.

The quota refugees, who are given permanent residency on arrival, also have opportunities to sponsor family members and their families to New Zealand - up to 300 places a year. New Zealand takes a diverse range and has been willing to take disabled refugees and ''women at risk''.

A rapid increase in numbers accepted could well undermine the goodwill and capacity of the community - volunteers do a lot of work with refugees - and leave many with insufficient support and set up to fail.

What could be achieved, however, is a careful and staged increase at first to, say, 1000 a year and then beyond.

The settlement areas could increase as efforts are made not to concentrate new citizens in Auckland.

The reality is that New Zealand is fortunate to be far from the frontline for refugees, asylum-seekers and desperate ''economic'' migrants.

It is spared the difficult dilemmas faced by Australians who have to try to balance humanity against the concern of being flooded, potentially, by ever increasing numbers of immigrants.

The situation in Europe is, sadly, even more fraught.

Refugees frequently come from diabolically difficult circumstances and are often highly motivated to work and contribute when they arrive in a new land, although some will always have difficulties.

New Zealand has a long tradition of helping, from Jewish refugees in the 1930s, Poles in the 1940s and many thousands after World War 2.

It has responded to various subsequent crises, and its people have been welcoming.

New Zealand needs now to take on more of the world's burden, while not compromising the requirement to orientate and settle refugees properly.

The Government should instigate a programme to increase numbers accepted purposefully but gradually.

New Zealand can and should do more.

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