World Refugee Day: NZ could 'do so much better', say advocates

There are no signs of the Government increasing the refugee quota, despite advocates saying New Zealand could "do so much better as a nation" as it lags behind internationally.

It comes as the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) released figures this month indicating one in 78 people around the world are currently displaced, with a rise in people forced to flee jumping to 100 million in May.

The jump "highlighting worldwide food insecurity, the climate crisis, war in Ukraine and other emergencies from Africa to Afghanistan as leading causes", chief Filippo Grandi said.

Parliament marked World Refugee Day on Monday morning, with advocates speaking to an audience which included MP Michael Wood, who marked the occasion as his first event as Immigration Minister.

Shama Ethnic Women’s Centre youth worker and law student Madiha Ali urged the Government to "keep aroha at the centre of our decision making".

"If there is anything my journey has taught me, it is this - life is so unpredictable, we never know what tomorrow will bring. An incredible series of delights, or a sequence of dreadful events.

"As of right now, the refugee crisis is real. There is currently 89.3 million people who are forcibly displaced worldwide (as of the end of 2021), the largest number in history. New Zealand has one of the lowest numbers of refugees per capita in the world and if were to break it down, it brings us to 0.3 refugees per 1000 people. Putting us 95th in the world and deep down, we all know we can do so much better as a nation."

As of May 10, there had been just 618 refugees arrive in New Zealand for the 2021/22 financial year.

"As much as I wish we could solve the global refugee crisis, I understand it is a long way to go. Yet I also know, it's always the small ripples that transform into big waves. Let us play our part as a nation, let us put ourselves into their shoes for a few moments," Ali said.

"Let us keep aroha at the centre of our decision making. Let's be a nation that cares, a nation that extends a helping hand, a nation that is compassionate and a nation that acknowledges everyone's right to safety."

"My story is just one of millions of stories of resilience, courage and utmost strength. These people are the epitome of determination and resilience, because even when the winds are strong enough to extinguish the tiny flicker of hope, they hold onto it because their whole lives depend on that tiny flicker of hope," she said.

"We can be that hope. We should be their hope, because every single human has the right to seek safety.

"We must extend our hand to help, because we would want to be helped if we were in that position, because it doesn't take long for a calamity to turn your world upside down."

New Zealand's refugee quota sits at 1500 per year. That number has never been met due to Covid border restrictions.

Wood confirmed Cabinet agreed the refugee quota programme would be resumed to full capacity in the next three year cycle, "and we will fulfil our international obligations of meeting the quota numbers of 1500 refugees per year".

Cabinet had been working through the next three-year refugee policy cycle, with the current one ending at the end of this month.

He said the number of places available under the refugee family support category had been doubled, and the Government also agreed to extend the community refugee sponsorship pilot to bring in up to 150 sponsored people to resettle in New Zealand.

"We have seen amazing work done at the local community level to be providing that support and assist people to settle well in New Zealand and it really has helped to build strong communities."

World Vision national director Grant Bayldon said the combination of conflict, Covid-19, and climate change "means more people are being forcibly displaced than ever before".

"Access to the Covid-19 vaccine has been inequitable across the world. The world’s least wealthy countries have received a pitiful 1.4% of available vaccines since the pandemic began," he said. "Millions of displaced people can still not access the vaccine and are at high risk. It is a sad indictment on those with the means to help."

"On World Refugee Day, when we turn our minds to the significant plight of refugees and displaced people, we urge New Zealand to adopt a stronger humanitarian response. New Zealand needs to lead from the front and work harder to meet our refugee quota targets. We need to play our part as a global citizen by providing settlement options for children and families whose lives have been changed in an instant due to conflict, hunger and disaster."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was asked by 1News why New Zealand's intake of refugees was so low compared to other countries around the world.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

New Zealand has "some of the best reintegration and integration programmes for refugees who come into New Zealand", Ardern said.

She said they had had doubled the quota, but due to Covid-19 some constraint was placed on bringing in the full quota.

"Now that those borders are back open, we're gearing up again."

Ardern was also asked if she would like to see the refugee quota increase at the number of people forcibly displaced from their home increases.

"Not only have you seen us as a Government double the number of refugees we take within the quota system, separately to that, taken a number of individuals who have found themselves in extreme circumstances in Afghanistan. In making sure where the need, for instance, is acute, we've acted quickly even if that means going outside the traditional refugee programme which often takes more time.

"You'll see the same with Ukraine, opening up visas to help support individuals and we've also supported, with the recent uptake of Australia, the specific allocation of those who are refugees and those who are in Nauru or in Australia waiting to find a home."

In March, Fulbright scholar Guled Mire said going forward, "we can't ignore the plight of refugees".

Mire said UNHCR had called for greater numbers of resettlement places and resettlement allocations.

"It's time for the Government to be fair and to be transparent in that process. Yes, we have obligations as a regional partner in the Asia-Pacific region. But the reality is that if we look in a way that the greatest number of crises are unfolding is in Africa, Middle Eastern and now Europe, and ironically we don't even have a Europe category.

"This actually poses a serious issue, the Government can't continue to just push this back. We need to think about our regional allocations, and we can't be selective in terms of who we choose to offer humanity to so while it's important that we respond to the crisis in Ukraine, we must also not turn a blind eye to what's happening in Yemen, in Syria, what is still happening in Somalia in Kenya, and all of these other regions that are still contributing refugees.

"It's important that the Government is fair and that the refugee policy is actually based on international humanitarian needs."

Mire said it was "great that we have emergency places and mechanisms" to be able to help in situations such as that happening in Ukraine, "but really what these targets needs to be is they need to be responsive to current circumstances".

UNHCR figures show at the end of 2020, of the 82.4 million people who had been forcibly displaced, 42% of those were kids. As of mid-2021, the majority of refugees came from Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar.