Covid-19 limits refugee intake

The challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic have put paid to the Government’s aims to increase refugee settlement.

In July last year the number of refugees who can settle in New Zealand each year under the refugee quota programme was increased from 1000 to 1500.

Immigration New Zealand general manager, refugee and migrant services Fiona Whiteridge said the refugee quota programme had been due to resettle 1500 individuals during 2021-22. However, the global impacts of Covid-19 meant this number would not be reached.

Instead, the programme aimed to resettle 750-1000 individuals.

As at October 11, 209 people had arrived through the programme, but Covid-19 had affected the refugees’ protection and resettlement needs, the ability to travel to international regions and carry out selection missions and the availability of travel routes throughout the world.

Any quota refugee places not filled in one financial year were not able to be transferred to the next year, she said.

A charity hoping to bring refugees to New Zealand is the Starfish Collective.

Member Kirsteen McLay-Knopp, of Dunedin, said it was in communication with several Syrian families who were living in refugee camps in Lebanon and Turkey.

The organisation hoped to bring families in using the community organisation refugee sponsorship pilot, which allowed up to 50 refugees per year from 2021 until 2024 over and above the 1500 refugee quota.

As a percentage of the population, New Zealand took a very small amount of refugees compared with some other developed countries, she said.

‘‘I understand people who say ‘we need to look after our own; we’ve got poverty here; we have issues here with housing etc’, but I also think we are not existing in a void and we can’t entirely wait until this country is a utopia to extend a helping hand to others.’’

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