4 Sep 2015

Refugee crisis: Pressure builds on PM

2:08 pm on 4 September 2015

The pressure is building on the Prime Minister to raise New Zealand's refugee quota, with critics saying he is not acting fast enough.

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John Key has dragged his heels on Europe's refugee crisis critics say. Photo: AFP

After earlier refusing to boost the annual intake of refugees, John Key now says the Government could consider lifting the 750 quota, before a scheduled review next year.

Up until now, Mr Key had insisted New Zealand was doing enough with regard to accepting refugees.

Amnesty International's executive director Grant Baylson said Mr Key's turnaround was a good sign, but the Government could be taking in more refugees right now.

"Not helping right now is absolutely indefensible. It's like pulling up the drawbridge while people are dying outside. New Zealand can do better than that.

"I don't think that the New Zealand public, New Zealand political parties, that New Zealand public opinion would accept the Government doing nothing more on this issue."

Mr Baylson said New Zealand's refugee quota needed to be doubled immediately, to 1500, then progressively increased.

He told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme that its place at 90th in the world on a per capita basis meant New Zealand's quota was well below where it should be.

He said refugee service providers could cope with an immediate increase, and all that was needed was the Government's will to do so.

"The advice that the Government's been getting on this is that the tap could be turned up almost immediately on this. There's a good network of people and organisations around the country; those resources stand ready and do just need to be scaled up."

Mr Bayldon added that the current situation was one of the biggest humanitarian crises the world had faced, and it was indefensible to do nothing.

Afghan refugees at the Mangere Refugee Centre in Auckland.

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

Green Party co-leader, Metiria Turei, agreed.

"John Key can make a decision today to increase the quota and put in place an emergency quota for this particular crisis.

"He doesn't need any more time, he certainly doesn't need any more information, he just needs to make the decision to act with compassion and humanity for these people who are in desperate need."

Mrs Turei said she did not know why Mr Key had not already taken action.

"He's under enormous pressure from the public to take action. I think New Zealanders are embarrassed by his stance - that it's so callous."

The Labour Party said any emergency intake of refugees should come from the the UN's refugee agency, UNHCR.

Labour's Foreign Affairs spokesperson David Shearer, who spent nearly 20 years working for the United Nations, said many thousands of people in refugee camps had been cleared by the UN and were waiting to be relocated.

"If we are going to be doing an emergency intake we should be looking at the refugees who are already being taken by UNHCR and cleared ... they could be the people who tomorrow might be on the road but they are now currently in camps."

Syrian refugees

An Auckland lawyer who deals with refugee claims says New Zealand could take Syrian refugees immediately if they have families living here.

Mr McBride said refugees could arrive here in 24 hours if the Government agreed to an emergency intake.

He said the resettlement centre might not have the capacity to take hundreds more refugees immediately, but that could be bypassed.

"One way of doing it would be to look at Syrians who are residents or citizens of New Zealand already who have relatives in desperate need, and let those people come here."

Mr McBride said New Zealand has a good record of dealing with refugees and should show leadership in the crisis.

Labour leader Andrew Little said New Zealand needed a Prime Minister who was willing to show leadership and act now.

"There are people in a desperate situation and just saying that at some indeterminate time in the future they will review it and they will think about what they will do - that's not good enough," he said.

Mr Key said the Government needed to get good advice before upping its intake in order to ensure other refugees already here were not disadvantaged.

John Key during bridge run 25/08/15

John Key has softened his stance on refugee quotas. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

But he said New Zealand could be confident that the Government was already doing a range of things to help - and taking in refugees was only one aspect.

"We are giving a considerable amount of money, we are building schools and educating young people, we are building up refugee camps.

"So, it's not just solely a matter of saying 'taking more refugees is the answer to the problem'. I think it might be, but we have to be assured that we can do that in a professional way, as we have in the past."

Meanwhile, a Taranaki man has set up a Facebook group, Open Homes Open Borders, asking New Zealanders to host a refugee in their home.

More than 1000 people have pledged to take in refugees on the page set up by activist Urs Signer.

Auckland woman, Susan Wills, said she had a sleep-out and a spare room, and would not hesistate to help.

"Because we have travelled in Syria and were overwhelmed by the hospitality, friendliness and kindness of the people who we met there, we wouldn't hesistate to stretch out a hand ourselves," Ms Wills said.

In the meantime, she had offered to donate household items and any other help she could provide to refugee agencies.

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