22 Jun 2015

Advocate questions PM's refugee claim

5:24 am on 22 June 2015

As the Government comes under increasing pressure to increase the refugee quota the Prime Minister claims thousands are coming into the country each year under the family reunification programme.

But refugee advocate Murdoch Stephens said John Key was either mistaken or being deliberately misleading.

Refugees from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, who were seeking asylum in New Zealand.

Refugees from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, who were seeking asylum in New Zealand. Photo: Supplied

Mr Key has repeatedly said the refugee quota should stay at 750 a year, a number which has not changed since 1987.

When challenged on the issue, Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse disputed that Mr Key had made such comments.

Mr Woodhouse dismissed the comments again in Parliament late last week when asked about the matter by Green MP Denise Roche.

"Who is correct? The Minister of Immigration when he said he would have an open mind to increasing quota numbers earlier this week or his boss, the Prime Minister, who said there will be no increase to the refugee quota numbers?" Ms Roche asked.

Mr Woodhouse replied: "The Prime Minister did not use those words and had he done so the Minister of Foreign Affairs and I would not be preparing to take recommendations to Cabinet early next year about the following three years' quota."

Michael Woodhouse

Michael Woodhouse Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson

A day later Mr Key was asked again whether the quota would be kept at 750 a year.

"Yeah I mean nothing's changing at this point. I accept the view that some people say it should go up. But I think some times it's a bit misrepresented. I mean the 750 is the number but of course with family reunification and the like it's always higher so we take, you know, thousands and thousands of people," he said.

Yet Mr Key is wrong. Thousands of refugees are not getting into the country each year.

Under the refugee family support category, only up to an extra 300 people a year can come into the country to join family members already here. But not all that allocation is generally used.

Labour Party leader Andrew Little is not impressed with Mr Key's use of figures.

"Our numbers are actually low per capita compared to many other countries. Again, we can do better and the debate's not helped by being misinformed by the Prime Minister. We need to do better," Mr Little said.

Labour leader Andrew Little.

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

He said Labour's policy was to increase the annual quota to 1000 but it could go even higher.

The spokesperson for refugee advocacy group Doing Our Bit, Murdoch Stephens, said he hoped Mr Key had simply made a mistake by claiming thousands of refugees were allowed into the country each year.

But Mr Stephens suspects the misinformation might be deliberate.

"As we've seen from Australia, and as we've seen by their political advisers Crosby Textor, that this is actually quite a strong area that rightwing governments in Australasia see they can get some electoral points on."

Mr Stephens said not only had the refugee quota remained unchanged since 1987, but the country was also accepting far fewer asylum seekers.

Before the terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001, New Zealand accepted more than 500 asylum seekers a year. Now it only took about 120 a year.

Mr Stephens said in 2013 Mr Key blocked an increase in the refugee quota and it seemed he was taking the same approach this time.

"This to me is particularly concerning given the Prime Minister is a second generation refugee himself and I would really like to see the kind of empathy that most of the other second generation refugees show towards refugees. They volunteer with the Red Cross and they really get involved in making this country a better place for refugees," he said.

Mr Stephens said he hoped though, that despite Mr Key's opposition, the refugee quota would go up when it was reviewed early next year as every other party in Parliament, apart from National, supported an increase.

Afghan refugees at the Mangere Refugee Centre in Auckland.

Afghan refugees at the Mangere Refugee Centre in Auckland. Photo: AFP

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