Refugee advocate Murdoch Stephens has rejected claims that settling more refugees in Aotearoa will further disadvantage those in poverty and hopes to see increased funding for refugee resettlement in Budget 2016.
Stephens is the spokesperson for the 'Doing Our Bit' campaign which aims to at least double the annual refugee quota of 750 individuals. He also believes greater emphasis should be placed on the positive economic contribution made by refugees to New Zealand.
“I hope the budget foreshadows, or coincides, with the first permanent and significant increase in the refugee quota in 30 years. The core cost of refugee resettlement is just $9m per year at the moment, while mainstream costs (for refugees) – education, housing, healthcare, that all New Zealanders have access to – is about $50m per annum. We’d like to see the allocations double for both.”
Until recently the government has argued for a quality over quantity approach, citing the raising of the budget allocation for refugee resettlement from $7.6 million to $13.2 million in 2014 as proof of New Zealand's commitment to tackling the international refugee crisis without increasing the number of individuals resettled.
However, the Syrian crisis has caused a shift in public opinion towards raising the quota. Despite this, much scepticism remains among New Zealanders concerned with our own vulnerable population. The government has accordingly announced a limited ‘emergency intake’ of 600 Syrians over the next two years.
While Māori suffer disproportionately from poverty and inequality, Stephens says he has heard a wide range of voices on the subject of raising the quota from tangata whenua.
“There is at least as much diversity of opinion about refugees from Māori voices as there is from Pākehā. Māori know what it is like to be displaced from their land by colonisation – and that might mean they are weary of more people coming into the country, especially those who might not immediately appreciate the significance of Māori. Or, it might mean that Māori empathise with other families that are fleeing from war.”
He is also quick to challenge the argument that we should take care of our own before accepting more refugees.
“Refugees aren’t the enemy of the poor in New Zealand: that’s an old trick. The real clash has to be between those already in New Zealand who want to get even richer and those who have already suffered after eight years of cost cutting. And none of this even takes into account the long term economic benefit of refugees – they start poor, but don’t stay that way – all the economists agree.”
With the budget expected to address Auckland’s housing crisis, Stephens sees an opportunity for a discussion of regional resettlement of refugees.
“I’d like to see attention given to the regions refugees are settled in. We need to match new refugee families to areas that have the infrastructure available to host them – jobs, houses, schooling. Auckland is obviously not a likely place to add more people, but there are resources (in other places) that might not be so cosmopolitan, but which are great for raising a family.”
New Zealand has settled more than 33,000 refugees since WWII yet ranks only 90th in the world for refugee resettlement. Australia, by comparison, has resettled five times as many refugees on a per capita basis despite a politically charged and ongoing immigration debate.
The Syrian crisis and ongoing conflicts in Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East have recently created an unprecedented crisis with more than 60 million people now classified as refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people across the globe.
Cabinet discussions on Aotearoa’s tri-annual quota review have been underway for more than three weeks and an announcement on the quota is likely either alongside the budget or during the World Refugee Day event at parliament on the 15th of June.