New Zealand again falls short of meeting commitment to refugees – Stuff

Posted: June 1, 2022 at 8:28 pm

ANALYSIS: The prime minister has been in the US this week, telling the world that Aotearoa is open. But what about those without money or business connections? Laura Walters takes a look at whether New Zealand is living up to its humanitarian commitments.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is spreading the message that New Zealand is open to the world. But those in the refugee community say this message is inconsistent with Aotearoas recent humanitarian record.

When Covid-19 hit in 2020, the world was already facing a refugee crisis. Now, with the worsening conflict in Ukraine, the situation in Afghanistan, and the continuing crisis in Syria, the number of forcibly displaced people has skyrocketed.

Andreea Alexandru/AP

As the refugee crisis worsens, advocates and those in the refugee community are calling on the New Zealand Government to walk the walk on humanitarian issues.

Earlier this week, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) announced the number of people forced to flee conflict, violence, human rights violations and persecution has crossed the milestone of 100 million for the first time on record.

Meanwhile, New Zealand is again preparing to fall short of its commitment to resettle 1500 refugees this year.

In fact, Aotearoa has failed to fulfil this obligation every year since the refugee resettlement quota was raised to 1500 people per year in 2018.

READ MORE:* Refugee 'at home' in New Zealand as one of lucky few resettled during Covid-19 pandemic* Scores of refugees in limbo as quota system in holding pattern due to Covid-19* Government set to remove 'racist' refugee policy, increase quotas from Africa and Middle East * Winston Peters casts doubt on rise in refugee quota

Immigration New Zealands general manager of refugee and migrant services, Fiona Whiteridge, says she expects 800 refugees to be resettled in New Zealand this financial year, ending June 30. With a little over a month to go, the number is currently sitting at 640.

Last year, just 260 of those 1500 spots were filled.

Of course, Covid-19 and the related border closures have had a significant impact on the UNs ability to evacuate and process refugees, and on New Zealands ability to receive, isolate and resettle them.

But as border restrictions melt away, and as the prime minister tells the world New Zealand is a kind, compassionate place thats open for business, there seems to be a question mark around whom that message applies to.

LAWRENCE SMITH/Stuff

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman says if the prime minister is going to tell the world New Zealand is open for business, then that message also needs to apply to refugees.

Golriz Ghahraman, the Green Partys refugee and humanitarian issues spokesperson, says if New Zealand wants to sell that message to the world, then it needs to walk the walk.

And currently we are not walking the walk when it comes to prioritising our humanitarian obligations and human rights, concerns around the world.

New Zealand presents itself as a leader on human rights, freedom and equality, says Ghahraman, a refugee from Iran. If we want to lead on these issues, then we need to be seen to be doing the work as well, and were currency not.

Coming into the next election, the country is facing a raft of domestic challenges, but governments have the ability to focus on more than one thing.

New Zealanders have shown time and time again that we do care about the world around us, we do want to be good international citizens, Ghahraman says.

I don't think it would be wise for the Government or for any political party to assume that New Zealanders only care about our own immediate problems right now, especially with the war [in Ukraine] that's really captured people's imaginations.

In March 2020, the UNHCR and the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) suspended resettlement departures for refugees as part of efforts to stop the spread of Covid-19.

And on March 13, New Zealands last intake arrived, before the refugee quota programme was suspended.

But by August 2020, the UNHCR had announced the resumption of resettlements to countries with appropriate capacity, processes and safe travel routes in place. By early 2021, the global refugee organisation was pleading with countries to find strategies and pathways to welcome refugees and support asylum seekers.

Throughout this period, New Zealand took a small number of emergency refugee cases.

ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi says Covid has stalled the countrys refugee resettlement programme, but reiterates that the Government is committed to filling the quota going forward.

In a statement, Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said the Government takes its international humanitarian responsibilities seriously and is committed to working with international partners to contribute to the support of, and to find durable protection solutions for, refugees who need that protection.

The recent doubling refugee quota is a demonstration of that commitment, Faafoi says. As are Aotearoas contributions to international peacekeeping and disarmament, and to supporting humanitarian aid through the United Nations and NGOs.

Faafoi referenced the Covid-19 disruptions, which saw the refugee resettlement programme put on hold, followed by a slow resumption in February 2021. Covid is also the reason why the Government downwardly revised the quota to 750-1000 for the year ending June 30, 2022.

With borders fully reopening at the end of July, the Government will work to ensure the quota is fully met going forward, Faafoi says.

While Covid-19 did create a genuine barrier to resettlement, refugee advocates and NGOs believe obligations to refugees werent prioritised properly during the pandemic, and could have been.

The result of pausing the countrys refugee resettlement programme was that the quota was not met for three years, despite growing global need.

Thats lives at risk. Its people left in a war zone, its people left in refugee camps with Covid raging, through winters, the Greens Ghahraman says.

There have been calls to roll over the unused quota spots into subsequent years, especially as the refugee crisis escalates. But the Government has previously ruled this out, meaning come July 1, the counter resets to zero.

We dont think thats too much to ask in the face of the global crisis, she says.

But before this discussion can be had, questions needed to be asked about whether the country is in a position to meet its obligations in the coming year, the one ending June 2023.

ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff

Refugee advocate Guled Mire says he fears the Government will always find another excuse for failiing to meet its commitments to refugees.

At this rate, says refugee advocate and Fulbright scholar Guled Mire, the Government will again fail to meet its commitment to resettle 1500 refugees in the coming financial year.

For the past couple of years, New Zealand has had to look after its own. Now, with the borders open, things need to change, Mire says. If they dont, Ardern does not have the right to paint her government as kind and compassionate, when youve literally ignored the most vulnerable people in the world.

Mire says the Government has a plan for everything else, but not for how to fulfil its humanitarian obligations.

That is something that we need to be able to confront as a country, that is our reality, and we need to be able to live with that. Its an embarrassing one.

Work is happening in this area, with Immigration New Zealand this month announcing new community support providers for refugees arriving as part of the quota programme; as well as the establishment of an independent refugee policy advisory panel.

Cabinet recently agreed to settle 1500 refugees annually for the next three years from July 2022. And a refresh of New Zealands refugee and migrant resettlement strategy is currently underway.

ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff

New Zealand needs to confront the fact its rhetoric on humanitarian issues and its actions dont match up.

However, Mire says the Government needs to do more. The Government needs to stop using Covid as an excuse. It has been a convenient excuse for two years.

It had been difficult to discuss the global refugee crisis while the borders were shut, and New Zealand was focussing on keeping Covid-19 out. But the situation had moved on.

The pandemic has only exacerbated the crisis, with now more than 100 million people considered refugees, he says.

Data from UNHCR shows refugee resettlement hit a record low in 2020, due to Covid-19, but the number of forcibly displaced people continued to rise.

Omar Haidari via Reuters/Screenshot from video

New Zealand has responded in an ad hoc way to recent humanitarian crises, including the situation in Afghanistan.

The number of forcibly displaced people worldwide rose towards 90m by the end last year, propelled by new waves of violence or protracted conflict in countries including Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Myanmar, Nigeria, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In addition, the war in Ukraine has displaced 8m within the country this year, and more than 6m people have been recorded as fleeing from Ukraine.

Both Faafoi and Immigration New Zealands Whiteridge pointed to special efforts to resettle those facing some of the most immediate threats.

Last year, New Zealand offered residence, under a special policy, to about 1500 Afghan citizens who were at risk of harm due to their support for New Zealand activities. New Zealand did not make specific spaces for Afghan refugees when the Taliban took control, throwing the country into chaos.

STACY SQUIRES

Eugene Bidney's parents have fled Kyiv in the Ukraine and now he is desperate to get a temporary visa to bring his mum to New Zealand.

The Government also recently announced a special two-year visa that allows for Ukrainians based in New Zealand to bring in their immediate families. About 150 people have arrived in New Zealand under this visa category so far. To date, New Zealand has not received any Ukrainian refugee referrals from UNHCR.

And since 2016, 925 Syrian refugees have resettled in New Zealand.

Currently, New Zealands refugee quota allocation is split by 50% Asia Pacific, 20% Americas, 15% Middle East, and 15% Africa. Immigration New Zealand did not provide up-to-date information on whether those allocations are being met.

Aotearoa Resettled Community Coalition chief executive Abann Yor says its important to remember the New Zealand Government has been working within the constraints, and upon the advice, of UNHCR.

Going forward, Yor would like to see more done to restore the dignity and status of those who are resettled in New Zealand.

Their human rights needed to be returned, and their image restored, in order for these new residents to prosper, he says.

If we provide a healing process that will enable them to recover, to discover the reality of what New Zealand is offering them to rebuild their lives, this is what distinguishes our country and the rest of the world by returning people their rights.

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PM Jacinda Ardern appeared on The Late Show, and gave a speech at Harvard University, as part of her re-opening tour.

While there is more to be done for resettled communities in New Zealand, the broader aim is to prevent refugee numbers from growing, Yor says. Internationally, New Zealand should have a really clear truth, that its not OK to produce refugees around the world. Any kind of conflict in any form is not OK for humanity and the environment we live in.

This was a message sent by Ardern during her appearance on The Late Show in New York City this week.

Its not about size. Its about values, she told talk show host Stephen Colbert on the war in Ukraine, she said. And in these moments, standing together, regardless of whether youre on the other side of the world or not, and showing that this is not a conflict that were going to let happen in the shadows. We will speak up, we will speak against it, and stand together until it ends.

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New Zealand again falls short of meeting commitment to refugees - Stuff

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