Kiwis urged to 'extend a hand of friendship' as New Zealand's refugee quota set to double in 2018

Millie McCaughan
Source: 1News

Refugee advocates are welcoming the coalition government's decision to double the refugee quota and are urging Kiwis to welcome the newcomers. 

Under the previous government New Zealand's annual refugee quota was 750.

Along with a portion of the 600 extra emergency places for refugees fleeing the Syrian crisis New Zealand's 2016 intake was just 0.02% of the current 4.6 million population.

Australia, on the other hand, took in 17,544 refugees during that time, accounting for 0.07% of their 24.13 million population.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, estimates suggest there are 65.6 million forcibly displaced people worldwide.

Of that 22.5 million people are refugees.

Under the new Labour-led government the quota is in the process of being doubled to bring in 1500 refugees annually starting in 2018.

"We're really pleased the government has confirmed its policy to double the quota, we'd like to see that policy implemented as quickly as possible," National Migration Programmes Manager for the Red Cross, Rachel O'Connor told 1 NEWS.

She says there is still more to be done.

There are currently 22 million people who have refugee status and less than one per cent will actually have a chance to resettle.

—  Rachel O'Connor

"Resettlement is not the only answer, as a country we need to make responses to what's happening overseas, so that's around peace building, providing humanitarian aid overseas as well.

Green Party MP and refugee, Golriz Ghahraman says her party will continue to work with the government on their policy to increase the quota to 4000 over six years.

"They're certainly open to us taking more refugees, and sort of doing our fair share on that stage."

But a larger quota will put a strain on resettlement services highlighting a need for significant increases in funding.

"We know resettlement is really hard and there are times when there are not enough services or not enough resources," says Ms O'Connor.

During the 2017 election campaign Ms Ghahraman noticed a lack of resources meant many NGOs or small community organisations have had to turn into service providers.

"They're under so much stress, so one of the key messages was we actually can't cope with more people, even on a family reunification ground.

"The good news is refugees actually quite quickly do move on after receiving that initial wraparound service, they do integrate; they do end up over-achieving in things like education and health."

As the quota doubles this coming year, the Family Reunification Category will also be increased.

"So that's something that is one of the wins we got," said Ms Ghahraman.

"Often someone gets out and they can't take all the kids with them immediately or they'll end up with a niece or nephew who is an orphan they were caring for that they need to be reunited with if that person's in a really vulnerable situation back in a war zone."

What's it like for refugees resettling in New Zealand?

Ms O'Connor says families arriving through the refugee quota inevitably need help at the start with services like the Mangere Refugee Centre, and housing.

"But the families who are arriving are incredibly resilient, they've overcome things that often we can't imagine, they come with courage.

"We hear story after story of people who have had to make impossible decisions in just these extraordinary circumstances, so people are just incredibly brave."

One of the key things that makes resettlement go smoothly is having a "welcoming community", says Ms O'Connor.

"We had a phone call when the Syrians first arrived down in Dunedin, and at first we thought it was going to be a complaint phone call.

"He said, 'We've got refugee kids running around the street'.

"And very quickly he said, 'I want to know what can I do to help? I want to buy some toys. I'm a four wheel driver, do you think the dad would want to go four-wheel driving with me?'

"That's exactly what we need, just really good hearted Kiwis who are prepared to extend a hand of friendship and welcome people into the community."

Just like Kiwis help in their time of need Iraqi refugee Zaid Al-Jarrah says refugees want to give back to the country.

"If you give them an opportunity to be a part of this country, they will participate as a New Zealand and Kiwis support them, they will pay back and contribute the building of the country," he told 1 NEWS.

However, it is important to remember this is not why refugees deserve to live in New Zealand says Ms Ghahraman.

"No one deserves to be tortured because they're gay. And no one deserves to be tortured because they blogged about some democracy issue, because those are refugees."

"And no one deserves to be in a war, to raise their kids under rubble."

"So there is the gratefulness, refugees do work harder, but I'm uncomfortable with that narrative because we have recognised that humanity means you don't have to put up with those things and you deserve to be safe.

"So let's not put all of that pressure on people to overachieve just to deserve safety."