8 Sep 2015

Refugees must not become isolated - minister

9:15 am on 8 September 2015

If more Syrian refugees are brought to New Zealand they could be as disconnected and isolated as they feel in a refugee camp in Turkey, the Immigration Minister says.

The Government will offer 600 emergency places to Syrians fleeing their war-torn country at a cost of nearly $49 million, and a further 150 people will come here under the existing quota.

Of the emergency intake, 100 places will be offered this year and 500 more over the following two years.

Andrew Little at the All Blacks RWC 2015 squad announcement.

Andrew Little Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Labour Party leader Andrew Little said more could have been done, with the intake of 100 refugees for this year sitting on the low end.

"This is an intake now over a three-year period. The crisis is right now, those refugee camps in Turkey and Jordan and Lebanon, they are packed to the gunnels. What we will do might alleviate some of the pressure in Europe, but the refugee camps are still there."

Mr Little said the government should bring forward the review of the permanent refugee quota, due in 2016, and look to increase it to about 1100.

But the minister, Michael Woodhouse, told Morning Report the government wanted refugees to be well-settled, and that had to be balanced against the numbers the country could accept.

Michael Woodhouse, National MP.

Michael Woodhouse Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

"They can become very socially isolated in foreign countries. Now we don't want that to occur. We've got very good systems for ... making sure they settle well and that's what we will be doing."

Research carried out by the government showed settlement outcomes for the refugees taken over the last two or three decades had not been good, he said.

"Fewer than half of them have a job five years after they arrive, many of them become quite disconnected, have poor educational outcomes - and we've been investing very heavily in making sure the outcomes for our refugees are as good as they can be.

"We want that for the Syrian refugees as well."

Extra refugees will stretch services - PM

The emergency intake of hundreds of Syrians will stretch the country's refugee services, Prime Minister John Key says.

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John Key Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Mr Key said officials had advised him the additional numbers would put pressure on New Zealand's capacity to re-settle refugees.

"Well the advice I've had at the moment is that this is stretching the system, it doesn't mean that you can never do more, or that you can't expand that capacity," Mr Key said.

"For instance Mangere (Refugee Resettlement Centre) needs further work if it's going to handle more than the 150 at one time ... translation services, whether people can get jobs, all of those other issues," he said.

United Future leader Peter Dunne said it was time New Zealand had another look at its annual refugee quota that had been set at 750 for decades.

"The next issue is the quota, and I think that has to be increased too on a long-term basis," he said.

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James Shaw Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The Green Party had been highly critical of the Government's reluctance to take more refugees, and its co-leader James Shaw said the emergency intake of Syrian refugees was welcome.

"I think that 600 is a very good start and for those 600 people, that's going to be lifesaving for them.

"They have clearly bowed to public pressure," he said.

But Mr Shaw said if refugee services were stretched, it was because the Government under-funded them.

Mr Shaw said he hoped the National Party would also change its mind about opposing a Green member's bill the party's seeking to introduce to Parliament today that would increase the country's refugee quota.

But Mr Key said that would not be happening because, he said, a thorough review was planned for next year.

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