Image: UK Department for International Development / Wikimedia Commons
First published on Sunday the 6th of September, 2015, this piece comes in at number 11 in the top 30 Villainesse stories of 2015.
I still remember the first refugee camp I ever visited – it was in Eastern Nepal and full of people from Bhutan. The second was in Tindouf in Algeria, and had been home to refugees from Western Sahara for over 30 years. One camp was full of huts with mud floors, the other was in the middle of the desert. But there was something that both camps had in common – more than anything else, the people who lived there just wanted the chance to go home. I met young people from Western Sahara who had spent their entire lives in those camps, where “today is the same as yesterday, and would be the same as tomorrow” They were educated, frustrated and angry.
The international community absolutely has a role to play in all of this. While the ultimate goal is peace and stability in the home countries for these refugees, we still have a role to play in helping the neighbouring countries who bear the brunt of displacement, while also offering ourselves up to those who are seeking a new home.
It is on this latter point where people have questioned whether New Zealand is doing enough, and rightly so.
You have heard all of the statistics – we take in 750 refugees per year and that has us ranking pretty poorly against other countries' hospitality. But it’s about more than us doing our bit, it’s about us remembering who we are, and what it means to be kiwi. It’s about the moment a sinking fishing boat full of asylum seekers was rescued by a container ship named the Tampa, and Australia refused to take them, so we did. 131 of them. Not only did we take them, we welcomed 207 of their family members. That was more than 10 years ago, and remains what Helen Clark calls “one of the best decisions I ever made.”
We have a chance to do that again.
On Tuesday, Andrew Little will try and table a bill in Parliament that will allow another 750 refugees to enter New Zealand this year. For the bill to have a chance to even be considered by parliament, we need every single member of parliament to agree. We did it for a bill to extend the hours that bars can open for the rugby world cup just a few weeks ago, surely we can do it for this – and you can help. Email your local MP (firstname.lastname@example.org) and share your views.
We have a chance here to not only do the right thing, but to remind ourselves what it is to be a kiwi.Support Villainesse