1 Mar 2022

National urges visa for Ukrainians fleeing 'unhinged' Putin's war

3:10 pm on 1 March 2022

National is calling on the government to fast-track Ukrainian visas and bring in a humanitarian visa category for close family members of Ukrainians living in New Zealand.

Christopher Luxon, Erica Stanford and Gerry Brownlee

Christopher Luxon, Erica Stanford and Gerry Brownlee Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Russian President Vladimir Putin's full-scale invasion of Ukraine has been progressing for six days, leaving hundreds of thousands without electricity or water, and forcing similar numbers to flee the country, as civilian deaths begin to mount up.

The International Criminal Court is opening an investigation and many countries have launched sanctions and other measures to punish Russia and its leadership.

National's leader Christopher Luxon told media this morning the party stood with the government in condemning the invasion, and Putin.

"From my point of view, this is a man that's completely unhinged and is doing something that's unacceptable, a total affront to human rights, a total affront ... to democracy, a total affront to peace and stability.

"There is no justification for this, it is just nothing but pain and hurt for everybody and it's just a terrible thing. So I mean from our point of view we condemn it very very strongly, we're with the government as we are with all political parties here in doing so."

However, he urged the government to do more, and quickly, with two steps that could be taken immediately.

"The first you've heard us talk a lot about is the introduction of an autonomous sanctions bill so that we can actually stand alongside our partners and to be able to leverage autonomous sanctions. The second thing is that we really think there is a need to introduce a special humanitarian visa."

In a statement, the party's Immigration spokesperson Erica Stanford said such a visa would apply to immediate family members of Ukrainians who have settled in New Zealand.

"This is something New Zealand can do now to support our Ukrainian Kiwis to bring their immediate family members here. There are approximately 1500 Ukrainians living in New Zealand, so this could benefit thousands of people in desperate situations."

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National's Immigration spokesperson Erica Stanford Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

She also called on the government to fast-track existing visa applications for Ukrainians, as Australia has done.

"New Zealand's response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine so far has been lacking compared to the rest of the global community. We urge the government to make this a priority."

Luxon said it was something the government could get going on "right here, right now, today". The visa could expect to have numbers in the "low thousands" apply, he said, and would sit separately from the refugee quota.

He said he had not yet spoken to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern about these suggestions, but National was open to having conversations about the refugee quota in the coming days and weeks.

"But we need to move with speed and we need to expedite things quickly, we need to be able to get Immigration New Zealand to be able to move things very very quickly through so they can start making this a big, big priority for them."

Christopher Luxon

National Party leader Christopher Luxon Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Greens back call for visas, urge refugee resettlement

In a statement, the Green Party supported calls for expedited visas for partners and family members of Ukrainians based in New Zealand.

Immigration Spokesperson Ricardo Menendez March said Ukrainian nationals based in New Zealand should also have their visas automatically extended.

"We must not let Immigration bureaucracy get in the way of visas being expedited quickly to partners and family members of Ukrainian people based in Aotearoa," he said.

Foreign Affairs spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman also urged the government to offer resettlement for Ukrainian refugees fleeing the region.

"Given our refugee quota has not been filled for two years now, New Zealand is well placed to offer to take 2000 refugees. We could easily use the Auckland Resettlement Centre as an MIQ facility," she said.

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Green Party Foreign Affairs spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

"This must include anyone based in Ukraine, regardless of their race or ethnicity, including migrant workers and students stranded by this war.

"We know in particular that Ukraine's Rainbow communities are extremely fearful and at risk based on Putin's track record of oppression. Supporting their safe passage through targeted resources for local organisations, followed by resettlement will make a huge difference."

National repeats call for autonomous sanctions bill

New Zealand has imposed some measures against Russia - a targeted travel ban against Russian government officials and associates, prohibiting the export of goods to Russian military and security forces and suspending bilateral foreign ministry engagement indefinitely, and offering humanitarian aid - but has no legal power to lodge economic sanctions against Russia except through the United Nations, which Russia could veto.

National's Foreign Affairs spokesperson Gerry Brownlee last year proposed an autonomous sanctions bill which would enable that, but it was voted down by Labour, the Greens and the Māori Party.

Ardern yesterday said the government considered it had other options and an autonomous sanctions law would be too slow in comparison. She had previously clarified that the government had not ruled out an autonomous sanctions law in some form, but what had been proposed in the bill did not cover some things like human rights violations.

Brownlee said the bill he proposed was previously a government bill written by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so "where the deficiencies are in that bill must be something that's come to light since that time".

Regardless, National was not tied to that bill in particular.

"We're not looking to have that bill necessarily passed, what we're saying is the government should have legislation that allows autonomous sanctions.

Gerry Brownlee

Gerry Brownlee Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

"The question is, do we want to be standing alongside and enacting sanctions similar to the rest of the world that we see ourselves belonging to or do we want to sort of fringe round the edges with all sorts of little bits and pieces that may in the end have not that much consequence ... we're not even beginning to talk about some of the restrictions on movement of funds through the international banking system which we use, and maybe we should be."

National has also called for the government to expel the Russian Ambassador, and Brownlee said that would not put an end to diplomatic efforts to end the war.

"It's a statement by New Zealand, not any other country, and it won't affect the ability of the EU or other countries that are currently wanting those negotiations to continue. Our prime minister is not going to be flying to Moscow to talk to Mr Putin, but [French President] Mr Macron is and other leaders inside the EU will be doing so as well."

He suggested New Zealanders in Russia could also be urged to leave the country.

"We recognise that [Russian] intransigence on diplomacy over a long period of time has rendered the diplomatic niceties somewhat moot, and so when you talk of New Zealanders who are in Russia, perhaps they should consider whether they should stay in Russia.

"It seems unreasonable that our position internationally is held simply on the basis that we want to protect some New Zealanders who are in Russia. We need to make that public statement.

"This is the most threatening circumstances the world's faced since the end of the Second World War, seventy-odd years ago, and we shouldn't underestimate the period this is going to run on for and the difficulty it's going to cause for all sorts of countries, including New Zealand, economically as well."

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