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Let us take a thousand refugees every year

David Shearer – For Web Edition- Saudi Sheep Scandal-David Shearer

In my electorate (Mt Albert), there is a wonderful neighbourhood radio station called Planet FM 104.6. Every month I visit the studio and interview someone on-air who I think has a fascinating story to share with the community.

From authors to doctors, town-planners, humanitarians and businesspeople, we have had some absorbing conversations over the years.

I try to keep the topics current. And because New Zealand is now receiving a small influx of Syrian refugees, I wanted to interview a refugee: someone who knows what it is like to arrive in New Zealand knowing little about the language and culture, and could explain what it feels like to build a life here.

Afghan refugee

Let us take-Shirin WebI was lucky enough to find someone quite extraordinary: Shirin Zakeri, a 21-year-old law student at Auckland University. She arrived in New Zealand 11 years ago, with her parents and siblings, as a refugee from Afghanistan.

Having grown up under the Taliban, Shirin had never had the opportunity to attend school because she was a girl. Yet just a few years later, she has learnt English and is doing well at the University.

She did not pretend it was easy to settle somewhere so new and different, and we talked about those challenges, but everyone in Shirin’s family is now studying or running a business.

Like most refugees, they are grateful for the second-chance New Zealand has offered them, and they are contributing so much more to our country than they ever cost.

If you’d like to hear my half-hour interview with Shirin, visit the link below: http://www.planetaudio.org.nz/refugeeexperience/archive

My interview with Shirin reminded me how good it is that New Zealand is playing its part in the global refugee crisis by taking an extra 600 Syrian refugees in addition to our regular quota.

The people coming to New Zealand are from refugee camps, mainly in and around Turkey. Most of them have been in the camps waiting for a very long time, without the resources to attempt the journey to Europe that many others have made.

Before being accepted by New Zealand, they are thoroughly researched and vetted by both the UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency and Immigration New Zealand.

Sad fact

It is a sad fact that more than 90% of refugees would rather stay in their own countries than have to face settling and adapting to somewhere new. The refugees coming to New Zealand have simply run out of options.

We have all seen the pictures of destruction in Syria. For them, this is a last resort.

New Zealand’s annual refugee quota is currently 750, which will be reviewed by the government this year.

The figure of 750 was set in 1987 but our population has grown by 40% since then. If the quota had simply kept pace with population growth, it would be well over 1000 by now. My feeling is that it should be at least that – if not closer to 1500.

The distinction

It is important to distinguish between the 750 refugees we take each year, and the people who arrive in New Zealand via our migration policy. The two are unrelated. Welcoming refugees is about exercising our humanitarian duty. We are helping a tiny proportion of those who are desperately in need.

New Zealand’s past experience of refugees has been positive. The refugees we accepted from the Tampa in 2001 are now a highly educated group of young people, proud to be Kiwis and contributing strongly – just like Shirin, her family, and so many of our immigrants.

Those arriving now are mostly families with children – and we all know how fast children can adapt.

I am sure that many of you reading this were born outside New Zealand too, and will understand the challenges involved in settling somewhere new.

Let us all give them a warm welcome to New Zealand.

David Shearer is an elected Member of Parliament from Mt Albert in Auckland and Labour Party’s spokesman for Foreign Affairs.

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