Libyan asylum seekers reach New Zealand

10:21 am on 3 September 2015

A trickle of asylum seekers from Libya has started to arrive in New Zealand for the first time, amid calls to increase the country's official refugee quota.

Women rescued off the coast of Libya wait to be processed by authorities after arriving at the port of Palermo, Sicily on 24 August.

Women rescued off the coast of Libya wait to be processed by authorities after arriving at the port of Palermo, Sicily on 24 August. Photo: AFP / Citizenside

Opposition parties and refugee groups want the annual quota of 750 raised, and they have also been calling for an emergency quota to help ease the growing crisis in Europe.

Immigration New Zealand said the Government was considering whether it should take more people from Syria, within the annual quota.

Labour leader Andrew Little said there was capacity to take people in other parts of the country if the Government was concerned about putting pressure on the Auckland housing market by increasing numbers.

"There are strong Syrian communities in Wellington and other cities in New Zealand, Christchurch included," he said.

"So it's not about saying 'put them all in Auckland'.

"Historically we've always reached out to the most vulnerable and those in need. We can do it if we have a will to do so, and I think we just need that political will."

But the Government said it had no plans to increase the number before a review next year - or to consider an emergency intake.

Caucus run 21/07/15

Prime Minister John Key said yesterday that the refugee quota was due to be reviewed next year, and he would take advice from officials then. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Fourteen Libyans have claimed asylum so far this year, making Libya the third biggest source of people applying for refugee status on their arrival in New Zealand, behind Fiji and China, with 20 and 17 respectively.

More on the world's refugee crisis

According to the UN, the eruption of civil conflict across the main urban centres in Libya last year has been compounded by boats leaving there to cross the Mediterranean carrying migrants from Syria and Africa.

The asylum seeker figures are in addition to the official annual quota of 750 refugees, who are predominantly from the Asia-Pacific.

In 2014/2015, refugees from Afghanistan, Myanmar and Bhutan accounted for 412 of that number, compared to 168 for the whole of the Middle East, including Syria, Iran, Iraq, Palestine and Egypt.

Syrian children at a refugee camp south of Damascus.

Syrian children at a refugee camp south of Damascus in 2014. Photo: AFP / HO / SANA

Meanwhile, the government said it would still take the 100 Syrian refugees it promised to take 18 months ago, even though only 83 have been settled so far.

Immigration New Zealand refugee division national manager Andrew Lockhart said the remaining 17 would be coming in the next financial year.

"In 2014, the New Zealand government agreed to resettle 100 Syrian refugees within the Refugee Quota Programme. To date, 83 Syrian refugees have been resettled in New Zealand and the remaining 17 Syrian refugees will be resettled during the present financial year.

"The refugees are being resettled over two years as some of the original refugees submitted by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, withdrew for family or other reasons or were declined as they did not meet Immigration New Zealand's requirements.

"The government is in the process of making decisions on this issue as part of the make-up of the 2015/16 Refugee Quota."

Calls to take more refugees

Syrian New Zealander Ali Akil settled in this country 15 years ago and now works with refugees. He told Morning Report the Middle East's refugee situation was the disaster of the century, and Prime Minister John Key should take a hard look at his government's policy.

"He should know better. He should understand the pain and the hardship that these people go through, and he should be more accommodating."

Mr Akil said Australia accepted five times the number of refugees per capita as New Zealand.

Kaliq Zullal, who arrived in 2001 as part of the Tampa refugee group, mainly from Afghanistan, and has since become a podiatrist, also said it was disappointing the quota had not increased.

"Kiwis are some of the most generous people in the world and taking 750 refugees is not enough," he said.

"There's obviously further room for more people to come in. Not saying we can help everyone, however we can easily accommodate more people."

The Mangere Refugee Centre in Auckland.

A group of refugees from Afghanistan at the Mangere Refugee Centre in Auckland. Photo: AFP

The Green Party said New Zealand could boost its annual refugee quota to 825 immediately, as the government already had money allocated for that number.

Within the annual quota of 750, there is an allowance to accept 10 percent fewer people, or 10 percent more.

Greens immigration spokesperson Denise Roche said New Zealand had a moral obligation to act.

"Within the current funding allocation, we could take an extra 75 people per year - which is no cost to the government. The other consideration is that we're spending how many million on a flag referendum? It's about prioritising the budget."

Labour Party Leader, Andrew Little.

Labour leader Andrew Little: "Most New Zealanders have a strong humanitarian streak." Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Labour Party leader Andrew Little said the government should be more flexible in the face of such a crisis, as its Labour predecessor was some years ago when extra refugees from Afghanistan were accepted.

Mr Little said every other party in Parliament wanted New Zealand to act.

"I don't understand what their reluctance is. I don't get it. And the fact that their support parties are all saying we should act - it goes back to, what I think, most New Zealanders have a strong humanitarian streak within us."

A spokesperson for the Immigration Minister, Michael Woodhouse, said he had nothing to add to comments about the annual quota, other than what he had said in past months.

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