The Refugee Quota Compromise

By   /   June 15, 2016  /   11 Comments

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The decision to raise the quota to 1000 refugees per year from the current 750 does nothing to redress the three decades of no increase to our refugee quota. It is a token gesture designed to mollify proponents for more resettlement and to be able to tell the general population that the government is “doing something”.

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Last year I went to Australia and visited a family of refugees I had known when they were stuck in Thailand.  They had gone to Thailand to flee persecution in their home country.

After a stressful and uncertain period of almost five years when they were forced to live in Thailand without any legal status, without any right to work, or any education for their children, they were fortunate to be resettled in Australia.

In Australia, they no longer have to fear being arrested at any moment for being illegal.  They can (and do) work.  Their kids are going to school and even speak now with Aussie accents.  For this entire family, resettlement had completely and utterly changed their lives.

So, I was a strong proponent of the government doubling our resettlement quota.  I have seen first hand the benefits it brings to refugees, while also strengthening our communities through diversity.  In my experience, the children of refugees are often very successful – sharing their parents’ ability to endure.

But, the decision this week on our refugee quota was as disappointing as it was predictable.

The decision to raise the quota to 1000 refugees per year from the current 750 does nothing to redress the three decades of no increase to our refugee quota.

It is a token gesture designed to mollify proponents for more resettlement and to be able to tell the general population that the government is “doing something”.

The quota will only be increased from 2018, which is another compromise.  It seems that the “optics” of being seen to do something trumps over actually acting in a protection oriented direction to substantively contribute to providing real and enduring protection from persecution.

For this is the classic, tried, and tested strategy of this government.  I call it the compromise strategy.  It goes a little something like this:

  1. Deny there is a problem
  2. Do some polling
  3. Blame someone else for the policy
  4. Do some polling
  5. Come up with some stats to claim that things aren’t as bad as they are set out to be
  6. Design a brave and thoughtful response to the problem that inspires New Zealanders Do some polling.
  7. Announce that you are open to doing something, while continuing to minimise the problem
  8. Do some polling
  9. Say something like “what difference can we make? We’re so small?” whether it be refugees/human rights/climate change
  10. Run on a platform at the United Nations that New Zealand deserves to be on the Security Council because we punch above our weight and uphold the importance of human rights
  11. Do some polling
  12. Announce a policy response that tinkers with the problem

The problem with this approach, and while it might keep you in government, is that it does not actually lead to any comprehensive governing.  Any real governing is put off for another time.  But, when all you care about is power, real governing is never the goal.  Is it?

For the population, real governing remains elusive.  And, now we are seeing the real results of a lack of proper governance through the growing inequalities in our society all too evident by what is happening at Te Puea Marae.

The current global refugee framework is under extreme pressure.  The numbers of those forcibly displaced is at greater levels than ever seen on the planet before.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees there are approximately 59.5 million individuals forcibly displaced.  On average, 42,500 people a day are forced to leave their homes.

Of those, 19.5 million are refugees.  The definition of being a refugee is that you are unable to return to your country due to a substantiated and intolerable risk of facing persecution for discriminatory reasons (under the 1951 Refugee Convention).

Of those 19.5 million refugees, 51% are children.

The countries hosting the highest number of refugees are Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia.  Not Europe.

Lebanon hosts just over 1 million refugees, with a population of barely over 4 million before the Syrian civil war.  According to Amnesty International, that amounts to 1 in 5 people in the country is a refugee.

Canada has announced that it will take up to 44,800 resettled refugees during 2016.  Using a back of the envelope calculation, I get a ratio of about 1:850 (for this year).

But down here, we’ll get 1,000 from 2018.  Again, doing my back of the envelope calculations (actually, it’s my smart phone), I get a ratio of 1:4,600 (in 2018).

Yes, the numbers are insurmountable (and my stats fallible).  But, the simple truth is that our contribution is miniscule.  As a country who is surrounded by the ocean, resettlement is a tangible way for us to contribute.  The government had a chance to significantly increase our contribution, but instead chose the road of compromise.  Unfortunately, that seems to be a road well-travelled.

While 250 more is better than nothing, I would prefer something more than compromise.  I would like to see New Zealand actually meet its supposed values and be an active, constructive player internationally.

But, it seems that compromise doesn’t countenance that.  Rather, it merely signals defeat.

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About the author

Michael Timmins

Michael Timmins is an expert in international human rights law. Specialising in refugee rights, Michael has worked in Egypt, the United States, Australia, Thailand, Pakistan and his home country of New Zealand across roles in advocacy, academia, and government. He is also a member of the Child Poverty Action Group's Management Committee. Michael’s writing covers international human rights, counter-terrorism, international environmental law, rule of law and accountability issues, as well as anything interesting happening in international relations.

11 Comments

  1. countryboy says:

    New Zealand/ Aotearoa should only take in more off-shore refugees when the last Kiwi homeless person is housed comfortably, affordably and securely first. Otherwise, carping on about taking in more off-shore refugees comes across, to this writer at least, as cringe-worthy, egotistical wankery in the ” look at me, I care more than you ” vein.
    The other , perhaps more dire consequence of the spectre of off-shore refugees is that our lazy, worthless politicians use refugee suffering to justify their existence while they spend our $-six figures plus entitlements. They get fat on the pain and suffering of others? Yep, sounds about right.

    • Quick Thinking says:

      Its easy to see that you did not learn to multitask, I would like to care for our citizens & provide for more refugees which should be possible at the same time as more jobs & business opportunities will happen when you combine the activities.

    • Mike in Auckland says:

      Countryboy, you must have noticed how this government has allowed significant immigration to flow into this country for the last few years, and while some persons coming in long term may have been returning New Zealanders (including those that migrated in years earlier), many were also new immigrants.

      They let this continue despite of the Auckland housing crisis, a real estate price bubble near exploding, infrastructure and other services pressured to the extreme, simply to create some “growth”, so they could harp on about how great their (absent) policies were to stimulate “growth” in the country.

      With doing this they covered up the failings in the economy, tried to balance the slowing Christchurch rebuild, the dairy price fiasco leaving many dairy farmers off working for nothing and being stuck deep in debt, and left New Zealanders to cope with all this.

      While some New Zealanders expressed concern about immigration, most kept quiet and shrugged their shoulders. Some also made gains out of the situation, by having their home prices increase massively in value, so they could use extra equity to buy more homes or to go spending on extra credit (the better off middle class).

      Now, when we are asked to take in a few hundred more as honest, vetted refugees, some are screaming, hey, we cannot afford this, while some Kiwis cannot afford their own homes.

      This is Kiwi BS, I call it, that is the redneck, hypocritical, double standard Kiwi BS, which I have seen so damned much about, because the same people that so often complain, they are not prepared to share their larger homes with the homeless, they are against paying just a cent in extra tax, while they can, to give the government the means to start a comprehensive social housing plan.

      The social and income inequality in this country is massive, I know it, having been to Remuera and other places, and also in Otara, Manurewa and so forth, which is like traveling between the first world and a third world country.

      When and if we can put up with another 36,000 people moving into Auckland each year, many new migrants, we can surely afford to take in another 750 refugees a year, instead of a meagre 250 (from 2018 onwards).

      That is if we had the will. But as this government has poisoned society, and divided us all to get at each other’s collar rather than work together and share a bit more, many now say, we do not have the will, as they do NOT want to share and do NOT want to work together, because they rather hide in their leafy suburbs and in gated communities, with high walls, security cameras and the rest around. The same have infected the poor workers and on benefits with the thoughts they have, making them believe, it is just these refugees that will cause problems, while the problem lies somewhere else, here and in the rest of the world.

  2. Afewknowthetruth says:

    The population of the world increases by about 200,000 a day.

    Since current global energetic-economic-social-political arrangements are dysfunctional, most of them will soon (almost certainly by 2020) be environmental-economic-conflict refugees.

    • Mike in Auckland says:

      Yes, acknowledged, but we are not now talking of economic or climate change refugees, we are talking of those escaping wars and persecution.

  3. Kam says:

    100% M. Timmins

  4. Theodore says:

    Ironic really. Pakehas settlers in NZ were refugees from the class-ridden, poverty-stricken society of Mother England.

    Now we deny the offer of sanctuary to those who need it the most.

  5. Mike in Auckland says:

    The government had no problem letting immigration continue to provide huge net migration gains for close to two years now, in order to artificially “boost” the otherwise stagnant economy, but it claims it cannot afford to increase the refugee intake by more than 250 per year, and that no earlier than 2018.

    It shows what a disgrace and morally bankrupt lot they are, the Nats under Key and his gang, they serve mammon and the devil, and no-one else, it seems.

    Money makes the world go round for them, but humanitarian effort is an alien word or concept, and too “costly”, so they want as little to do with that as possible.

    Hence we are a disgrace internationally now, and at home, where people that cannot afford to rent homes sleep in cars or out in the open, also has the number of beggars and rough sleepers in our cities increased.

    That speaks volumes, especially when one Minister of (Anti-)Social Housing is ready to hand out $5,000 per head, to those she rather wants to see the backside of, by moving them out of Auckland.

    Morally defunct, void and bankrupt, nothing else is what this should be called.

  6. Mike in Auckland says:

    We do not have to accept the government’s BS we have alternatives:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k5wpfsk2-hk

  7. save nz says:

    This is a heart wrenching article. And in our back doorstep. Why do not NZ take the Nauru refugees – it is hard to see how these detention centres can be considered legal under human rights legislation – in particular for the unaccompanied children committing suicide.

    “The worst I’ve seen – trauma expert lifts lid on ‘atrocity’ of Australia’s detention regime
    Exclusive: In his 43-year career, Paul Stevenson has worked in the aftermath of the Bali bombings and the Boxing Day tsunami but says nothing he witnessed was as bad as the treatment of asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus”

    http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/jun/20/the-worst-ive-seen-trauma-expert-lifts-lid-on-atrocity-of-australias-detention-regime