Government scraps refugee policy labelled as racist by migrant advocates

7:24 pm on 4 October 2019

A refugee policy that's been labelled as racist by migrant advocates is being scrapped by the government.

Auckland International Airport

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway has announced as part of the government's three-year refugee policy that it will get rid of the requirement for Middle Eastern and African refugees to have relatives already residing here.

The announcement has come just months before the refugee quota will jump from 1000 to 1500 for 2020.

Africa and Middle East regions will have their allocation increased from 14 percent to 15 percent.

The focus will remain on refugees from the Asia-Pacific who will make up 50 percent of the allocation.

The number of places within the refugee quota for large-scale refugee crisis situations will also rise from 100 to 200 places from July next year, meaning New Zealand will be able to maintain its ability to respond to a global refugee crisis.

A sub-category for women who are at risk will also receive more places going from 75 to 100.

The Green Party said the government was putting fairness and inclusion back the heart of New Zealand's refugee policy.

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman said the government was demonstrating its commitment to the idea that human rights are universal.

She said as a former refugee from the affected region, it was meaningful for her to work with the minister to bring about this change.

Ms Ghahraman said it sent an important signal to New Zealand's refugee communities that whatever their faith or ethnicity, they were welcome.

Manawatū Refugee Voice president Tammam Tamim lived in Palestine and Syria before coming to New Zealand.

He said by having more people from the Middle East in New Zealand, it would help other refugees settle.

"If I came to Palmerston North and I have someone from my community who is from Syria or Palestine he can speak my language.

"When we came here our English is not perfect we're just learning, [so] do you think our life will be easier? Absolutely, it will be easier," he said.

He said it would make it easier to find schooling and jobs.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway.

Iain Lees-Galloway announced the policy in Palmerston North today. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Mr Lees-Galloway said the government knew changes needed to be made and today's announcements reflected the priority given to people who need refugee assistance.

But the National Party's Immigration spokesperson Stuart Smith said it was not a move he would have made.

And he defended the introduction of the policy in the first place.

"We were focusing on our region with refugees and I think that was the right thing to do," he said.

A review of the policy was expected in July, however, Mr Lees-Galloway said it was still being considered and a decision would be announced "soon".

In August, World Vision presented a petition to the Education and Workforce Select Committee calling for the refugee policy to be fairer.

Refugee advocate Dr Murdoch Stephens had said then that this was a racist policy "intentionally designed to reduce the number of Middle Eastern and African refugees in the country".

Meanwhile, the two-year pilot 'Welcoming Communities Programme' is going to be extended out to other parts of the country.

Ten councils across five regions and the Office of Ethnic Communities have been part of the pilot.

"Helping newcomers feel welcome and included in the places they have chosen to live is what Welcoming Communities is all about," Mr Lees-Galloway said.

He said that the programme was starting to deliver economic, social and cultural benefits to those communities involved.

The government will allocate over $6.6 million for the programme over the next four years.

Additional councils will be invited to submit expressions of interest in joining the expanded programme later this year.

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