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Tau Kē Tēnei Wiki: A New Refugee Centre for New Zealand

Aue a Tau Ke

As a New Zealander, I’m proud to say that my country is not only improving the facilities for new refugees coming here, but increasing our capacity so we can take even more than we do currently. Pride wouldn’t normally be my response in this matter. As one of the wealthier countries in the world I consider the resettlement of refugees, paid for by the taxpayer, no more than our duty. However, I’m so disgusted and outraged by the hate-mongering by so many (mostly) right-wing politicians, especially in the United States, that it’s made me realize (again) how lucky I am to live in New Zealand.

At the moment we take around 750 refugees per year via the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) programme. It may not sound a lot, but we’re a small country, and they’re given a lot of expensive support to help them adapt to life here. Indeed, our programme is recognized as being one of the better ones internationally.

On arrival, they’re initially housed at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre in Auckland for six to eight weeks. There, they complete an initial orientation programme that includes such things as English language, law, local customs, and how to shop. They also receive physical and mental health checks to ensure any ongoing needs in that area are properly met.

The Centre works closely with the Red Cross. The Red Cross helps with such things as obtaining a bank account, IRD (NZ equivalent of IRS) number, employment, housing, furniture, and social welfare benefits (if required).

Several other government and non-government agencies also contribute to the orientation programme.

After the initial orientation period, refugees move to either Hamilton, Palmerston North, Wellington, or Nelson. Those cities each have their own refugees programmes, and the Red Cross provides major support there too. In addition, each refugee, or family, is assigned an individual social worker for at least a year to help with ongoing issues.

It was announced tēnei wiki that a second refugee resettlement centre would be built in Dunedin. From the Otago Daily Times:

Cull, Dave ODT

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull (Source: Otago Daily Times)

“Dunedin has a strong set of services and is a well-connected city where a number of government agencies have a presence,” Immigration New Zealand general manager Steve McGill said today.

“There are good employment opportunities in the area, suitable housing is available and there is excellent support from the community.”

Mr McGill said in a statement an extra settlement location was needed after the Government’s decision to welcome 750 Syrian refugees over the next two and a half years in response to the ongoing conflict in Syria.

Dunedin was considered alongside New Plymouth, Hastings/Napier, Invercargill and Tauranga.

In making the decision, factors such as employment, housing and the availability of Government services available alongside community support were considered, he said.

In September, Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull called for a refugee centre in the city, and last month a new grouping of social agencies, the Dunedin Refugee Steering Group, told the council it wanted the city to be considered as a centre for refugee resettlement.

The New Zealand government’s decision to take more refugees from Syria via the UNHCR programme was largely prompted by public opinion, and is supported by all opposition parties. Indeed, some want the government to take even more.

In contrast, the US Republican Party is doing all it can to scuttle President Obama’s decision to take more UNHCR refugees from  Syria. Congress (currently held by the GOP) has passed a law, with support from several Democrats, that would make it almost impossible for a Syrian refugee to go to the United States. The law still has to go through the Senate, and Obama has promised to veto it, but the fact this is happening is pure partisan politics.

Fear and hate have been driving the debate in the US, and the facts haven’t got a look in. The recent terrorist attacks in Paris have just upped the rhetoric. One of the terrorists apparently came from Syria with the hundreds of thousands of refugees that have been crossing into Greece recently, and thus “Syrian refugee” has been conflated with “terrorist.” The fact that most of the terrorists were European citizens, and that the refugees coming through Greece are not the same as those that come through the UNHCR programme, is being completely ignored.

The worst thing is, the politicians who are using this issue to gain attention KNOW that UNHCR refugees are safe. It takes 18-24 months to go through all the refugee process checks, and those checks occur BEFORE the refugee arrives in the United States (or New Zealand). They are people who need our help, and they are being demonized by self-seeking a-holes who want to lead not only the country, but the free world.

A week ago, Chuck Todd presented a report about US refugees on Meet the Press, which reader Ken found, and I posted on the Heather’s Homilies Facebook page. Some of the facts from this report are:

1. Since 9/11 about 785,000 refugees have been admitted to the United States.
2. About a dozen have been arrested or deported due to terrorism concerns (i.e. roughly 1/1000th of 1 percent), none of whom were Syrian.
3. Since 9/11, the UNHCR has referred 23,092 Syrians to the United States for refugee status.
4. Only 7,014 were accepted to the next step and interviewed by Homeland Security.
5. Only 2,165 were admitted into the United States as refugees.

He also points out that the biggest risk is those who come into the country as tourists or students from countries that are part of their 38-strong visa-waiver programme. A terrorist from France or Belgium with no criminal record could get into the United States easily just by boarding the next plane. They wouldn’t waste their time going through the time-consuming UNHCR and Homeland Security refugee process, which would also risk them being identified and getting on the radar of security services.

Despite this, the fear-mongering continues and appears to me to be creating a climate of hatred towards Muslims in the United States. This sort of irrational hatred is in my opinion likely to cause resentment in, and marginalization of, young Muslims, making them a target for radicalization. Thus, for the sake of driving up their poll numbers, a few politicians may in fact cause the terrorist attack they insist they’re trying to avoid.

Although we haven’t had one yet, New Zealand isn’t immune from from DAESH-style attacks. We were mentioned in one of their latest videos as a potential target due to our military helping to train the Iraqi military. However, I’m pleased that it hasn’t resulted in a majority of my fellow Kiwis turning against those who need our help the most. And I have to credit our politicians too – none has tried to take advantage of the situation like so many in other countries have.

6 Responses to “Tau Kē Tēnei Wiki: A New Refugee Centre for New Zealand”

  1. Ken says:

    Yes, great news, Heather, and due entirely to public pressure. The conservative National govt strongly resisted increasing the number of refugees to help with the Syrian crisis and will allow only 600 in total beyond the quota over the next 2 1/2 years.

    That quota has remained at 750 per year for three decades, so by any measure is indeed stingy given the increasing need and that our population has increased by a third in that time. NZ now ranks about 90th in the world in per capita refugee intake. The number will be reviewed in 2016 so the public will again have a chance to speak out about what a more respectable level would be.

    And as I like to point out to refugee-phobic people in the US, if they don’t want these vulnerable people knocking on their doors, tell their politicians to stop adding to the problem with US military interventions that destabilise the Middle-East. The same goes for NZ as we currently support the US with a deployment of troops in Iraq.

    • I think that 90th figure is a bit misrepresentative, but I’d like to see us at least maintain the increase beyond quota as the new quota. I don’t want the quality of our support to suffer because of it though, so the increase has to be managed so refugees continue to receive a good service imo.

      The ideal of course would be for there to be no refugees, and US military interventions certainly don’t help. There are millions from places that can’t be blamed on Western interventions too though, and in all cases the causes are multiple.

      As well as taking more refugees, we need to give greater support to the UN camps so people can be maintained in better conditions closer to home, enabling them to go back home more easily when conditions stabilize. Most refugees would prefer to stay in their home country if possible.

  2. Coel says:

    Hi Heather,

    As a New Zealander, I’m proud to say that my country is not only improving the facilities for new refugees coming here, […] At the moment we take around 750 refugees per year …

    I don’t want to be critical of New Zealand, but just to point out that it’s really easy to take the moral high ground if one is talking about only 750 people a year (or that number, scaled pro-rata per population).

    Germany is expecting to have 1,000,000 refugee claims this year. Owing to knock-on consequences (accepted refugees then bringing their families), this is projected to add up to about 8,000,000 in the long term.

    All the expectations are, given the dire situation of Syria, Libya, much of Africa, etc, that Germany could face another million claims next year. And then the next.

    Britain, protected by the English Channel, gets fewer asylum claims, but still, last year, there was net immigration of 350,000 — and immigration has been running at hundreds of thousands for decades.

    These numbers quickly add up to significant fractions of the population. For example, 65% of children born in London now have a foreign-born parent.

    It is inevitable that immigration on this scale causes social issues. This is why Europe is putting up walls to keep people out. Plenty of people would like to be generous, and if 50,000 solved the problem then they’d say, sure, let’s take them. But the scale is such that I don’t see any good answer here.

    An equivalent for New Zealand, scaling by population, would be taking, say, 50,000 people a year, every year for the next decade. How would New Zealanders react to that suggestion?

    [NB, I’m not commenting on the US situation, which I know less about.]

    • The situation in Britain and Europe is different. Imo there is room for valid room for worry and complaint there. The US, like NZ, mainly only takes UNHCR refugees, and the US is only talking about 10,000 over 2½ years, which is not a lot in comparison to the population. People who come through this route are safe, and the numbers are not high enough to cause significant social problems. This is why I see our (i.e. US and NZ) situations as comparable.

      One thing I would say though is that given that they are usually young, refugees are an effective way of increasing the working population to pay for an aging population – a big problem in several European countries. Also, as far as I remember, statistics show that refugees have had a net positive effect in most European countries.

      However, as I say, I’m not comparing the US with Europe because I think that’s an invalid comparison – I’m mainly criticizing the US for comparing themselves to Europe.

      • Coel says:

        Also, as far as I remember, statistics show that refugees have had a net positive effect in most European countries.

        People indeed like to quote the statistics that immigration boosts GDP; which is true, it does. It would be surprising if it didn’t: more people, more money turnover in the economy.

        However, statistics (at least for Britain) show that GDP-per-capita is not increased by immigration.

        The distinction here is often ignored. For example, Channel 4 News has, for months, been running pieces supportive of immigration, and regularly quotes the statistics showing an increase in GDP as justification (with news anchors often quoting that at politicians). But I’ve never seen them discuss the much more relevant statistic: GDP per capita.

        • That’s a good point and I completely agree – GDP per capita is a better indicator for judging whether the economy is improving, and if the trend isn’t upwards, that’s a problem. It’s dishonest not to give the full picture.

          There needs to be a distinction between refugees, immigrants who already have proper work lined up and immigrants who are jumping the channel with little idea what they’re going to do when they get there though. Assuming that GB also has a refugee support programme, official refugees are far less likely to cause a problem than immigrants in that last category.

          One of the issues with the open borders is that refugees don’t apply until after they arrive, at which point the accepting country has less control. NZ and the US have “ocean privilege” and thus refugees are approved before they arrive. It’s the main reason our situations aren’t comparable.

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