1 Sep 2015

PM cold on upping refugee quota

3:41 pm on 1 September 2015

The Prime Minister is flatly rejecting an emergency intake of refugees despite the escalating migration crisis in Europe.

This year alone, the International Organisation for Migration estimates, 2373 people have died trying to reach Europe by sea, and 3573 in the past 12 months. Almost 300,000 people have arrived in Europe in 2015.

Prime Minister John Key has ruled out an emergency intake of refugees.

Prime Minister John Key has ruled out an emergency intake of refugees. Photo: AFP

Amnesty International said the international community, including New Zealand, could not continue to turn its back on the situation.

It wants the Government to consider an emergency intake of refugees on top of doubling its annual quota of 750; new figures show it has accepted only 83 of the 100 Syrian refugees it pledged to take last year.

But Mr Key has again said New Zealand is already doing its bit.

"Everyone accepts the enormity of the challenge of what's taking place, but New Zealand can pride itself on the fact that it's one of the countries that's consistently taken refugees for a long period of time.

"There are quite a few countries that don't take refugees," he said.

Mr Key said the refugee quota was due to be reviewed next year and he would take advice from officials then.

John Key at the All Blacks RWC 2015 squad announcement.

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

But New Zealand needed to make sure it could provide a proper service before upping its intake, he said.

"If we were ever going to increase that number, I'd have to be convinced that we can make sure we can give the same level of service.

"Because I think you do a disservice to people if you just bring them in and literally just half dump them on the street."

Amnesty International New Zealand director Grant Bayldon said Mr Key's arguments just did not wash.

Grant Bayldon

Grant Bayldon Photo: Supplied

"If you see a house that's burning down and there are 10 people inside, you don't stand out on the footpath and say we can only save two, what difference will it make? You do what you can," he said.

Speaking at the 2015 Reeves Lecture in Auckland last week, former New Zealand Prime Minister, Helen Clark, said refugees had made an "incredible contribution" to New Zealand.

"I think of people from all parts of the world, fleeing all kinds of oppression who have come here, I think they've repaid us thousands of times....Having said that, don't think it's enough to add another 250 or another 500 to the refugee quota."

Miss Clark, who is the administrator of the United Nation's Development Programme, said Syria's neighbours, in particular, needed more support.

"I don't know whether it's widely appreciated in New Zealand how great the burden on some of the neighbours is. Lebanon has a population the same size of New Zealand in an area that is probably smaller than the Waikato. They now have 1.2 million refugees from Syria," she said.

Labour leader Andrew Little said the least New Zealand could do was increase its quota.

"I don't think it's enough to say, 'Oh, whatever we do is just a drop in the ocean'.

"It is about showing some leadership, and some solidarity with the rest of the world as we come to grips with what is clearly a dreadful humanitarian crisis."

New Zealand has not increased its refugee quota since it was first set at 800 almost 30 years ago, in 1987.

Instead, it fell to 750 in 1997 and there has been no change to the numbers since then.

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