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  • Fri, 21, Sep, 2018 - 5:00:AM

1500 is not enough: we need to rethink our refugee quota

By 2020, New Zealand’s refugee quota will rise by 500, to a total of 1500 refugees per year. That’s progress, but it’s nowhere near enough. Whether our reluctance to adequately address the issue comes from hidden racism or a sense that our country already ‘does enough’, our policy on refugees shouldn’t be limited by domestic politics.

The baseline for New Zealand’s refugee intake is very, very low. Compare our intake to Australia’s: their quota is for 18,750 refugees per year, even under their relatively conservative government. During the Syrian crisis, they made an emergency intake plan to take 12,000 more people (that’s on top of their quota) within two years. Meanwhile, we’ve decided to increase our baseline to 1500 in two years.

A quota of 1500 still leaves us far behind the countries we like to compare ourselves to. Per capita (a measurement we love as a small country), we still suck. The UK takes three times as many; Canada takes seven times as many; and Sweden takes 23 times more refugees than we do.

Why are we implementing such an inadequate, half-assed response? Politically, that answer is simple: New Zealand First. But domestic politics should not stand in the way of helping out in an international crisis. Change has been needed to New Zealand’s role in accepting refugees for decades. Delaying that change until an election year is an inappropriate response and shows why our refugee quota should not be seen as a political issue.

There is a sense of entitlement touted by those who want to keep the quota low. We live here, and this is ‘our’ country, so why would we let anyone else in? That entitlement is completely unearned. Being born in one country rather than another is blind luck. And New Zealand is stolen land in the first place, so if you’re a pākehā speaking out against letting more people into ‘your’ country, think again.

New Zealand’s refugee quota should be independent of politics. It should be based on our moral obligations on the world stage. This is not a problem that we can continue to distance ourselves from. As a well-resourced country, we need to participate and provide for refugees at the same level as the countries we trade with. With one of the lowest densities of population in the developed world, we can and should be doing more to provide a safe, welcoming home for those escaping conflict.

I acknowledge that the quota is not everything. New Zealand takes asylum seekers and an additional emergency intake on top of the quota. But the quota is what we plan for, and what we fund. Changes to the quota represent a shift in policy towards welcoming more refugees.

The idea of a quota is problematic because it distances us from the true issue. When we reduce refugees to a number, people focus on the economics, on the fact that people in New Zealand also need help. They distance themselves from the fact that helping refugees is the right thing to do. People fleeing conflict are in dire need. The majority of them are children. Talking about the numbers helps us to forget that refugees are people.

The real issue isn’t difficult to frame: millions of people, around the world, need to live in a country like New Zealand because they have no home to return to. New Zealand should help as much as possible because we have the resources, and because it’s the right thing to do. It’s that simple. Fifteen hundred is not enough.


  • Refugees /
  • New Zealand /
  • Policy /
  • Refugee Crisis /
  • Immigration /
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