Paris attacks: PM backs NZ refugee vetting

6:45 pm on 16 November 2015

Refugees who come to New Zealand go through a rigorous vetting process before they are accepted, Prime Minister John Key says.

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The shootings and bomb attacks in Paris have left 132 people dead. Photo: AFP

Mr Key's comments follow reports one of the Paris attackers might have posed as a refugee to enter France, which had prompted some Syrian New Zealanders to express fears of a backlash.

Attackers opened fire and used explosive devices at seven locations across the French capital on Friday, killing 132 people.

More on the Paris attacks

A Syrian passport found near the body of one of the gunmen had the same details as a man who registered in Greece last month after crossing from Turkey with asylum seekers.

But this afternoon, in Vietnam, Mr Key told reporters New Zealand's refugee intake system was rigorous and had multiple checks and balances.

"I can give New Zealanders an assurance that firstly they go through a system administered by the United Nations, so they go through a proper vetting process, and a lot of work is done to establish that they are genuine refugees.

"Secondly, we're actually taking our refugees from camps - they've been well established and often in those camps for a long period of time."

New Zealand also sent its own officials to interview the refugees formally and double-check their paperwork, he said.

John key on the bridge at Parliament.

Prime Minister John Key Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

New Zealand had refused to take some refugees in the past, he said.

"We need to be careful because, in one sense, the vast, vast overwhelming bulk of refugees are genuine refugees - actually, they go through a hell of a lot and we need to give them support.

"And I'd certainly like to think that, the refugees we bring to New Zealand, we are going to embrace them as good genuine people and integrate them into our society."

New Zealand has agreed to take an additional 600 refugees from Syria over the next two-and-a-half years, with the first intake of 85 due to arrive in January - about a third of them children.

Another 150 Syrian refugees are being included in the annual refugee quota.

The Australian government has warned its timetable for bringing 12,000 Syrian refugees to the country could "blow out" as authorities undertake more "thorough" background security checks.

A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said there were no plans, at this stage, to change New Zealand's approach to screening refugees.

Mr Key said problems often arose when refugees feel excluded in their new country so it was important to "do a proper job" - including housing, financial support and "that we as a country and a community welcome people in".

'Scaremongering'

But Auckland man Ali Akil, from the group Syrian Solidarity, said talkback radio had been quick to seize on the story of terrorists masquerading as refugees.

"Everybody who has always been against it [accepting refugees], they're going to utilise this event to their own agenda and start scaremongering even further, and put pressure so the likes of France stop accepting refugees."

The Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand said there had been no reports of retaliation against Muslims in response to the Paris attacks.

Federation president Hazim Arafeh said it was also extremely unlikely that New Zealand would breed any of the home-grown terrorists of the type implicated in the Paris attacks.

The New Zealand Muslim community was small, tight-knit and well integrated into wider New Zealand society, he said.

"We are very vigilant - one person carrying this ideology is one person too much.

"But at this stage, I'm not very concerned about people adopting this ideology."

Flowers placed outside the French Embassy in Wellington in memory of those killed in the Paris attacks

Flowers placed outside the French Embassy in Wellington in memory of those killed in the Paris attacks Photo: RNZ / Alexa Cook

Meanwhile, flowers, candles and balloons have been placed outside the French Embassy, in Wellington, in remembrance of the people killed in the Paris attacks.

A few people stopped for a moment this morning to pay respects and read the messages left at the doors of the embassy.

Sally McLaren lived in Paris for 28 years before moving to Wellington last year, and as she laid down a bouquet of flowers on her way to work she said she was thankful that her husband, who still lived there, was okay.

"I've laid a red rose, a white rose and some blue flowers to portray the flag and show that we are thinking of our second country, our home and our friends," she said.

A spokesperson for the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service noted New Zealand's domestic terrorism threat level remained at "low".

They said any change to that would be announced publicly.

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