Refugees should have to 'accept Kiwi values'

2:03 pm on 14 June 2016

The government is being told it should make refugees sign up to New Zealand values before they allowed are into the country.

A refugee is welcomed to New Zealand with a hongi

A refugee is welcomed to New Zealand with a hongi Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

In an announcement made yesterday, the government said in two years the refugee quota will go up from 750 to 1000, the first rise since 1987.

It prompted debate not only about who should be allowed to come here, but also whether the new limit went far enough.

Half the refugee quota will be for people from the Asia Pacific region, with the rest made up from regions including the Middle East and Africa.

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said everyone will have to have a thorough background check.

"That starts with UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), a simple identification. They are ruled out on the basis of any connection with conflict - them or any extended family members," he said.

Cultural practices were also taken into account, Mr Woodhouse said.

"Matters such as polygamy obviously rule them out from a cultural perspective, but after that immigration and security services do their own vetting, in association with their partners, so that as far as we can be, we are satisfied those who are coming are the most in need and are who they say they are," he said.

Refugees in Australia are required to sign a "value statement" before allowed in the country.

The statement says refugees agree to respect Australia's values such as freedom of speech and religion, democracy, equality of men and women, fair play and compassion for those in need.

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

Act Party leader David Seymour said New Zealand should have something similar.

"If you're not prepared to sign up, for instance that you believe men and women should be treated equally, you shouldn't come to New Zealand," he said.

But Prime Minister John Key said while it was good for anyone coming to New Zealand to understand this country's underlying values and principles, he did not think they needed to sign a formal document to do so.

"I think it's good for any person that comes to New Zealand to understand what they're coming to - the place they're coming to and the sort of values and principles that underpin us as a nation.

"My experience of migrants when they come to this country is they become very patriotic Kiwis, and so I don't know whether they need a charter for that."

Mr Key said he would see New Zealand values as understanding its history, the place of the Treaty of Waitangi, and tolerance.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said making sure refugees agreed with this country's values was a long-standing policy for his party.

People who abused women and treated them "like cattle" should not be allowed in, he said.

"I'm afraid we have not been that careful in the past and consequently we are letting down both our population, and indeed half the refugee families, if they're going to continue to be treated in this country like they are back home," Mr Peters said.

United Future leader Peter Dunne said not enough was being done to ensure refugees feel like they belong here.

"That leads to people feeling a little disillusioned, a little left out and therefore perhaps congregating with others from their country and not mixing properly.

"This is not talking about turning everyone into being a Kiwi like the rest of us, but allowing people to bring their culture and fit into our society," he said.

But the immigration minister said while refugees will embrace New Zealand culture, they should also be allowed to keep their own.

Mr Woodhouse told Morning Report refugees should understand Maori heritage and will be able to sing a waiata a week after arriving in New Zealand.

"I've hongied with muslim women, there are tremendously positive signs that these people want to connect with New Zealand society, but at the same time, preserve what is good about their society. You can't just take them out of the countries where they have been persecuted and expect them to forget where they came from."

Mr Woodhouse said it was not fair to compare New Zealand's refugee numbers with those of countries who were seeing large arrivals of asylum-seekers at their borders.

Labour leader Andrew Little has also hit back at suggestions of a possible culture clash.

"We've had a successful track record of refugee settlement from all parts of the world over the last several decades and I don't see that changing," he said.

Double the quota campaign

There has been a strong campaign to double the quota to 1500, but the government said it had to make sure people moving here had the support and services they needed.

Mr Little said current facilities could handle more people and Prime Minister John Key's "miserable increase" ignored the country's obligations to the international community.

"This is less than the bare minimum. If he had kept closer to what we should be doing now, we'd be up at least around 1100 - he wouldn't even do that. I think a lot of New Zealanders will think this is just an absolute failure of moral leadership," he said.

Amnesty International NZ executive director Grant Bayldon agreed the quota increase was shameful, but said it was not too late for the government to fix that.

"There's no reason that the government can't come back and review this again in another year. We'll be encouraging them to do that, and to make a sizeable increase next time," Mr Bayldon said.

Once the new quota came into effect in 2018, the government said the cost of resettling refugees would rise by $25 million a year, to $100 million.