18 Jun 2015

'Give more refugees an opportunity'

11:49 am on 18 June 2015

'Give more refugees chance at better life'

A Rohingya refugee is calling on the Government to take in more asylum seekers forced to flee violence in their home countries.

Rohingya Muslim children at a ​​temporary shelter in Langsa, Aceh, Indonesia.

Rohingya Muslim children at a ​​temporary shelter in Langsa, Aceh, Indonesia. Photo: AFP

Pressure has been rising on the Government to raise the annual refugee intake from 750, where it has remained since 1988.

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse yesterday said the governmnet was keeping an open mind about pushing up the number - something the Prime Minister said would not happen.

Mohamed Shah Alam Ali earns his keep as a painter and decorator in Auckland.

Ten years ago he was fleeing for his life.

Mr Ali left Myanmar in 2005 on a boat, a stateless Rohingya Muslim not recognised by his own country.

"We are actually deprived of many rights, being undocumented prevented developments in my life."

"There were a lot of arrests going on, and fearing that, I decided to leave."

He was smuggled into Thailand after having to bribe his way out of an arrest on the border.

Two years later he began working with the United Nations in Malaysia, and applied for refugee status.

By the time he was accepted into New Zealand in 2012, he was facing daily raids that could have sent him back to Myanmar to face the death penalty.

"As soon as I arrived in New Zealand people are treating me like a citizen, even though I'm a refugee."

"So I feel really really independent, just as though I'm released from a cage."

Since 1988, New Zealand has taken in 750 refugees every year, a number groups like the Red Cross, Amnesty International and the Race Relations Commissioner say is outdated.

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

Since 2012, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya had been forced to flee escalating violence.

Mohamed Shah Alam Ali lost both his parents in 1995, and his family home has now been destroyed, leaving four of his siblings in camps with nowhere to run.

He said he feared the idea of them trying to leave by boat.

"I've been watching the news, and a lot of boat people are dying in the sea, so if my siblings are in that situation I will lose everything in my life."

Mr Ali said more people should be given the opportunity that he has for a fresh lease on life.

"I think the New Zealand Government should bring in more refugees, giving them a better life, giving them an opportunity for their life, as New Zealand is a really peaceful country and New Zealand society is peace-loving."

He said he hopes one day his own government will do more to recognise and protect the Rohingya people.

Greens spokesperson for immigration Denise Roche said the Government's suggestion there were not enough resources to settle in more refugees was wrong.

"It's about priorities, and if we can spend $26 million on a flag referendum, if we can spend the millions that we are on sending personnel to a warzone, then we can surely spend a tiny proportion of our budget in offering a safe haven for 250 displaced people."

Amnesty New Zealand's Executive Director Grant Bayldon said there were no hurdles left to stop New Zealand from increasing the quota.

"We've got the biggest international refugee crisis since the Second World War, New Zealand's on the Security Council so it needs to be seen doing it's fair share, we've got the United Nations asking for help, we've got an excellent program here but a very small one."

He said faced with no other option, refugees are forced into dangerous means of escape.

"We know that people get on boats when there are no other options, they're un-seaworthy, often dangerous journeys, and terrifying for people to do, so yes, absolutely we see that people get on boats when there aren't enough places on resettlement programmes."

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