'Being a refugee is not a choice'

9:55 am on 11 September 2015

Former refugees were among hundreds of people to attend candlelit vigils calling for the Government to double New Zealand's annual refugee quota.

Refugee vigil Auckland.

Photo: RNZ/ Kate Newton

About 1000 people attended a vigil on Parliament's lawn last night, while several hundred more braved the rain to head along to a similar demonstration in Auckland's domain.

Vigils were also held in Christchurch, Dunedin, Palmerston North, Nelson, Whanganui, Thames, Timaru and Napier.

The Government has agreed to take an extra 750 refugees over the next two and a half years, but the annual quota of 750 refugees has not been lifted for 28 years.

Members of of Ngati Whatua iwi sang a waiata in front of the Auckland war memorial yesterday evening, to let all refugees arriving in New Zealand know they were welcome.

Holding vigil with them were some of the country's newest immigrants, including Ives Bigirimana.

Mr Bigirimana, 28, fled Burundi with his family as a teenager, and then spent years in a refugee camp in Tanzania before finally arriving in New Zealand ten years ago.

He came to the vigil to show solidarity with the estimated 60 million people who were currently displaced by war or persecution.

Janina Stenbo and David Stenbo, 3 show their support for increasing the quota.

Janina Stenbo and David Stenbo, 3 show their support for increasing the quota. Photo: RNZ/ Kate Newton

"It's something that people really need to do - being a refugee is not a choice," he said.

"You have to flee in a hurry and you have nothing, you leave your family behind - and often where you go to seek refuge, people don't really welcome you."

Naheed Saeid was just a little girl when she came to New Zealand with her family to escape persecution by the Taliban in Afghanistan, but told the crowd she would never forget how glad she was to have somewhere safe to call home.

"And now, I ask that we consider giving more people the same opportunity," Ms Saeid said.

A vigil at Parliament calling for New Zealand to double its refugee quota.

A vigil at Parliament calling for New Zealand to double its refugee quota. Photo: RNZ / Benedict Collins

"I ask that we exercise the empathy New Zealanders have become world-renowned for, and extend a helping hand to those who are stuck with nowhere to call home."

The first refugees New Zealand will accept under the emergency quota announced this week will begin arriving in January.

Dunedin wants refugees settled in the south

Dunedin's mayor says he wants the Government to consider resettling refugees in the southern city.

After arriving in the country, refugees go to Mangere, in Auckland, for a six-week orientation programme, before being resettled in Auckland, Waikato, Manawatu, Wellington or Nelson.

Mayor Dave Cull said local churches, community groups, and the Red Cross had all shown a willingness to volunteer their time and skills to welcome and support any refugees.

Mr Cull said the Government looked at a similar proposal in 2011 and he wanted to revive those discussions.

He said it was too soon to put a number on how many people the city could cater for.