Forget doubling the quota, let’s be bold and make it 40,000.


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Scenes of German citizens welcoming Syrian refugees this week have been nothing short of astonishing. Bold political leadership and brave public generosity have combined to produce a wave of human kindness towards foreigners that seems more like some sort of liberal fairy tale than anything close to real life. When it comes to asylum seekers we are so used to compassion being drowned out by everything from pragmatic xenophobia to security paranoia to outright racism. But, Germany has reminded us all what true humanity really looks like and its government has proved that rich, powerful nations can be a force for good.

It hasn’t been all about heart-warming scenes either. The numbers are incredible. Germany expects to receive at least 800,000 refugees this year. To put it mildly, this makes an absolute mockery not only of New Zealand’s official refugee quota (750), but of the entire debate within New Zealand about raising it. Should it be 1,000, as the Greens are calling for, or 1,500 as Amnesty International suggest? Forget about all that. To match – in proportional terms – the refugees that Germany will take in this year, New Zealand would need to receive over 40,000.

Such numbers represent a potential game-changer in the way refugee crises are handled. Until now, formal resettlement (i.e. rich countries voluntarily accepting to permanently resettle refugees) has only catered for a tiny proportion of total refugees – New Zealand’s annual quota being a minuscule part of a tiny global effort. The result of this has been the long-term, but temporary displacement of people in refugee camps or other settings that variously sit somewhere on a scale between undignified and inhumane. As has been widely reported, the number of people in such circumstances has reached world record levels, there being now nearly 20 million refugees globally (plus almost another 40 million internally displaced people); people who, according to UNHCR, have been in their present situation for an average of 17 years. Despite this appalling situation, the international community has more or less placed the problem in the too-hard basket. Rich countries have been content to allow refugees to languish in poor ones, providing sufficient funding to humanitarian agencies to prevent total disaster but, except for a lucky few, nothing more than that. The mass resettling of refugees has been a notion that is simply beyond the pale – an idea not only regarded by rich countries as undesirable, but dismissed as logistically impossible, unaffordable and socially detrimental.

The numbers being accepted by Germany (and several other European countries), however, raise for the first time the possibility of resettlement becoming a viable option for a high proportion of refugees. If the world’s rich countries took in, proportion to their own populations, half of what Germany is, all of the world’s refugees could be resettled within three years. Thanks to the leadership the German people have shown, what was previously thought of as impossible may, in fact, be quite realistic.

Problems abound, of course. It remains to be seen exactly how Germany will cope with its massive influx. Well-intentioned Austria, for example, has already declared itself overwhelmed and has closed its borders to further refugees – hopefully temporarily. When will Germany’s capacity reach its breaking point? And how long before those offering beds to refugees grow tired of the novelty and expense of hosting families with whom they struggle to communicate and having nothing in common?

What will be the long-term consequences of integrating new populations? Will its economy cope? Will the social backlash be so strong that it may embolden the nationalist right? Will Germany’s actions serve to encourage further migration, including of those who do not meet globally accepted refugee definitions? Politicians of the lesser sort will move swiftly to peddle such fears, but they are not entirely without basis and Germany has not, it is worth noting, been anywhere near as welcoming to recent influxes of migrants from the Balkan states.

And what about the fairness of offering asylum to those able-bodied refugees that have the financial means to make it to Europe, whilst many of their fellow citizens have neither the money nor the savvy to make it out of the camp? Or of those refugees from much further afield (say, from South Sudan or Myanmar), who have no chance of ever making it to Europe?

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These are all questions that need to be taken seriously, but they should not be used as an excuse for the continued marginalization of global refugees. The core of Germany’s moral leadership on this issue has been not to ignore such questions, but to boldly move beyond them by placing the humanitarian imperative as the first consideration. As Dieter Reiter, the mayor of Munich put it, “Every day I am asking myself how can we accommodate these people, these refugees, how can we give them a feeling that they are safe here in Munich, here in Germany. I am not really thinking about how many people can we afford and can we take here in Munich. That is not the question”.


  1. At the beginning of the First World War a military camp was set up near Featherston that took thousands of soldiers within months. If New Zealand could do that 100 years ago, I can’t see why we don’t have the resources to do that now for refugees.

  2. It could work if everyone stopped their pursuit of pointless crap and actually worked together for a common good. But you’re talking about a whole philosophical shift. Are kiwis capable of this?

  3. Of course we can do it. We must do it. Compassion demands no less from us.

    But would this government do it? Like hell.

    Once upon a time we led the world in moral issues like opposing nuclear weapons testings and anti-apartheid activism.

    Let’s be world leaders again!

  4. With the tragic refugee crises raging across the Middle East, North Africa and Europe now is time to ask some serious questions. When did all this start? Soon after 9/11 former US President George W. Bush articulated the goals of the War-on-Terror in a speech in which he said that it “will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.” He called the war “a task that does not end”.
    Remarkably there has never been a criminal investigation into 9/11 nor has there been any technical investigation because most of the evidence was destroyed immediately after the events.
    No evidence has been presented linking Afghanistan or Iraq in these attacks and yet the U.S. and it’s willing coalition partners have been at war with these countries for many years now.
    In 2002 General Wesley Clark, retired 4-star U.S. army general was shown a classified memo which stated “We’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran”.
    When will people rise up en masse and seek an end to these wars and demand justice for the millions of innocents killed, injured and displaced in vain since 9/11?

    • According to Wake Up New Zealand America is responsible for the Middle East wars, they want access to the oil.
      The refugees are victims who America is using to flood Europe.
      The article is very enlightening,shows the war mongers patience and planning over a long period to get the result they want.

  5. It’s not all about sympathy.

    Germany has figured out that their population is aging too fast for their economy to survive.

    A huge injection of young people, indoctrinated as Germans, will keep their economy going for many years yet.

    Other EU states (such as Hungary) will stagnate once their population ages, they will then become an easy take over !!

    Germany and a tiny few others have figured that out !!

  6. The refugee Syrian situation in Europe is undoubtedly hard to fathom from the far shores of NZ. The images of thousands of refugees stranded in Budapest waiting for entrance to the EEC is hard to watch, their agonising faces tell a gruelling story. The news article by NZ daily mail, about Abdullah Kurdi who couldn’t save his wife and two small boys from the terrifying wave on their small vessel that took their lives is extremely touching. I’m sure there are many more of these stories which the media cannot cover. I definitely have empathy for these refugees but in reality how will they fit into the NZ lifestyle? While I do agree with John Key’s humane point of view of increasing the NZ quota from 750 refugees a year, I believe this is not logical. In reality, how much difference will this really make to the millions seeking asylum? These refugees should be taken in, but at the same time should adapt to the New Zealand lifestyle, instead of these refugees clinging together in their own tight knit community.

    These refugees should be able to integrate perfectly well, respect NZ values, don’t abuse welfare, and greatly enrich NZ. It’s too easy to be “humane” at someone else’s expense. Not too many want to use their personal income and be personally responsible for refugees. Yet many think “New Zealanders should do it”? I believe no more refugees!! And if someone is so humane, they can bring some to live in their house, pay for everything, and enjoy the results of this “multicultural enrichment” in their own house.

    Do you think our government can afford it? There are already 622,000 people in New Zealand living in poverty and we do not need anymore to contribute to our taxes. I believe money should be spent instead on helping to upgrade the kiwi’s living in New Zealand, instead of letting new refugees in.

    • Jasmine, a fascinating and well written response. It begins with compassion, then grapples with the reality of the acting on that compassion before concluding that nothing, in fact, can be done. I believe your view, and indeed your thought process, reflects that of many NZers and it is a perfectly rational position to take.

      In kindness (instead of the cynicism or vitriol that far too often accompanies blog comments), though, I would ask you to reconsider your view from the perspective of a Syrian refugee, living in a tent in the squalor of a refugee camp, where it is stifling hot in the summer and snowing in the winter. With inadequate access to nutritional food, education and health, forbidden to work or freely move. Many of the concerns of NZers about inviting refugees to live here are legitimate, but surely they are insignificant compared to the plight of the refugees themselves.

      • Respectfully, I’m not concluding that nothing can be done, rather that even though many people are empathetic to the plight of the refugees, we need to keep mindful of our own people and give priority to them before committing to helping others. Almost along the lines of if we are broken at home, how can we be in a position to house those less fortunate wanting to come into the country, without fixing our own situation first.

        So what would happen to the New Zealand economy if the majority of refugees become welfare dependant and fail to assimilate to our New Zealand culture? Will there be unrest and friction amongst the many other immigrants who have come here for a better life and are working hard to help their children live better lives?

        Regarding your view to take on 40,000 refugees, if we can’t even keep up with building enough houses for our current population growth, including legitimate immigrants, how are we going to cope with the extra numbers without addressing the skilled people required to help build the homes required? That is way too out of proportion, wouldn’t you agree?

        Perhaps many kiwis see it is as such a vast problem that is too overwhelming to comprehend and, so it is easier to put it in the ‘too hard basket’. Call it lack of compassion or pragmatism, but shouldn’t the public be allowed to have a say in how our government responds to this crisis?

  7. When will people realise the asylum seeker and refugee crisis is in fact a humanitarian crisis? People that are currently living in refugee camps, sheltered only by a thin plastic tent in the blistering winter or scorching hot summer are human beings? Why does religion, race or their geographical identity matter in this issue?

    As a small country, I understand that we are unable to accommodate to large numbers of refugees as Germany and other European countries are generously doing. However, regardless of our size as a country, we should do our best to provide a home to those who are in need. It is appalling to see some of the negative responses from New Zealanders on this issue. Many are arguing that we cannot afford having another 750 refugees but we can somehow afford to spend 26 million on designing a flag? Why should we change something that simply should not be changed? Why are we not using that money to aid to some of the millions of refugees who are living in conditions and danger that is unimaginable. Where is the humanity in those who refuse to help? What happened to your compassion?

    In the movie “The Great Dictator”, Charlie Chaplin brilliantly explains what has become of humanity – “Greed has poisoned men’s souls; has barricaded the world with hate; has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost. The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in man; cries out for universal brotherhood; for the unity of us all.”

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