6 Sep 2015

Mayors want rise in refugee quota

1:23 pm on 6 September 2015

The mayors of some of New Zealand's main cities are asking the Government to double the country's refugee quota to take account of the crisis in Europe, which has been brought about largely as a result of the onging conflict in Syria.

Afghan refugees at the Mangere Refugee Centre in Auckland.

Afghan refugees at the Mangere Refugee Centre in Auckland. Photo: AFP

A petition is being circulated around regional leaders, who plan to pass it on to the Prime Minister, John Key.

Wellington's mayor, Celia Wade-Brown, who is organising the petition, is asking for the quota to increase from 750 a year to 1500 over the next five years.

Ms Wade-Brown said the increase was supported by mayors around the country, including those of Auckland, Christchurch, and Dunedin, as long as there were enough resources to support the refugees.

The Prime Minister's office yesterday rejected suggestions the government had agreed to take in 100 mainly Syrian refugees on top of the usual quota.

It said the Government wanted to make sure any additional refugees would have the support they need when they arrive.

Earlier this week, after insisting that New Zealand was already doing a lot for refugees, Mr Key said the Government could consider lifting the quota.

Opposition support for increase

Meanwhile, the Green Party said New Zealand had the ability to take in more refugees despite the Government's lack of commitment to increasing the quota in the face of the current asylum seeker crisis in Europe.

Greens co-leader James Shaw said if the Government could pay $11 million to an irritated Saudi businessman, then there was money to support refugees.

"That would easily cover the costs of supporting an additional 750 or a thousand refugees coming into New Zealand.

"Yes we do need better infrastructure to support them but we do have the money available, it's just a matter of prioritisation."

He said mayors across the country had made it clear they had the capacity, and New Zealanders want to help.

The Labour Party and the Greens are both hoping to pass bills this week to double the current annual quota of 750 refugees.

Labour proposes taking in an extra 750 Syrian refugees under urgency this year.

Refugee services "can cope"

A local refugee service says New Zealand has the capacity to cope with more people.

The Prime Minister's office has said the Government had not yet decided to accept more Syrian refugees.

The chief executive of Refugees As Survivors New Zealand, Ann Hood, told Sunday Morning New Zealand can handle more.

"We will need to be very careful in the way we plan for this and in the allocation of our resources, but we do do a good job.

"I do think we have the ability to cope and extend what we're doing to new people coming on board."

Dr Hood says the refugee crises had been ongoing for years, but because New Zealanders identified more with Europe it had been made more real.

Meanwhile, the international charity Oxfam said it was concerned that New Zealand was taking too long to respond to the refugee crisis.

Oxfam's executive director, Rachael Le Mesurier, said while the Government's argument that it needed to ensure support for extra refugees worked under normal circumstances, it was now a matter of absolute urgency.

She said Oxfam continued to call on the Government to double the current refugee quota of 750.

The West Coast welcomes its newest citizens at a ceremony at the council chambers in Westport.

The West Coast welcomed its newest citizens in Westport last month. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Thousands pledge to host refugees

More than two-and-a-half thousand New Zealanders have pledged to host a refugee in response to the crisis in Europe.

A Facebook event set up by a Swiss-born social activist, Urs Signer, asked whether people have a spare room, sleep out, holiday home to accommodate asylum seekers.

Mr Signer said more needed to be more done to help refugees, and people are already taking action.

"I think the offers are genuine, people are responding to what they're seeing on the news every night and reading online ... we need to step up and we need to help."

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