22 Jun 2015

PM corrects himself on refugee quota

6:48 pm on 22 June 2015

The Prime Minister has corrected himself after wrongly claiming 3000 to 4000 refugees come into the country each year.

Prime Minister, John Key.

Prime Minister, John Key. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

At his post-Cabinet news conference, John Key said he had been wrong and the numbers were much lower.

Mr Key had repeated the claim several times that thousands and thousands of refugees make it into the country, despite the annual refugee quota being just 750.

He said many more came in under the family reunification programme.

This afternoon, he corrected his comments that up to 4000 refugees were accepted each year.

"I was recalling a figure in that region which actually referred to the total number of the full refugee programme, which is a three-year programme.

"The number of refugees, asylum seekers and family members per year is obviously smaller than that.

"In the last three years since we've run ... the programme around 3500 people were approved to come to New Zealand under refugee-related policies," he said.

Numbers supplied by the Immigration Service confirm - once family reunification numbers and asylum seekers are included - that the country accepted in total 5104 refugees in the previous five years.

A spokesperson for refugee advocacy group Doing Our Bit, Murdoch Stephens, said that number should increase.

"We've been asking for that to be doubled, including the family reunification, but if he thinks that we can take triple our current quota we think if he did that in a reasonable and responsible manner over, you know, an appropriate period of time then New Zealand could handle that," Mr Stephens said.

Speaking before Mr Key's news conference, Green Party immigration spokesperson Denise Roche said Mr Key should raise the quota.

"If he thinks there's that many refugees coming into New Zealand then we should definitely increase the quota so that they can come into New Zealand.

"But the reality is that it is a much smaller number than he is suggesting and either he is misleading us on purpose or he just doesn't have his facts straight," Ms Roche said.

Amnesty International director Grant Bayldon said those who came in under the family reunification programme, which was restricted to 300 a year, cost the Government nothing.

"People who come on that scheme are not entitled to government assistance to get here.

"They have to pay their own way or their families have to cover that or fundraise for it and they're not given assistance to set up once they're here and also not entitled to any benefits or government assistance in their first two years here.

"So it's not at all like the refugee quota where there are wrap-around services provided. In fact people have to largely do it alone," he said.

Mr Bayldon also disputed Mr Key's argument that the Government continued to limit the numbers because it did not want to compromise the quality of the service it provided to refugees.

"New Zealand does run a very good quality refugee resettlement programme. There's no doubt about that.

"But we've now got the actual agencies who do the resettlement in New Zealand coming out and saying that they could do more, they could handle more and that this wouldn't affect quality.

"Really we don't accept the argument at all that increasing the refugee quota would in any way compromise quality," Mr Bayldon said.

The Government will review its refugee quota for the next three year early in 2016.

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