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Refugees have the potential to excel

David Shearer – 

I recently caught up with Abann Yor, who works just down the road from my office in Mt Albert. Abann and his wife came to New Zealand as refugees and are now raising their four young children here.

Abann won the ‘Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Local Hero Award’ this year for his incredible work in my community as the director of the Auckland Refugee Community Coalition.

Our neighbourhood would be much poorer without Abann and his family, and that is no anomaly: former refugees have a history of huge contributions in New Zealand.

Remember the 150 Tampa refugees in 2001? They are now educated, proud New Zealanders who are giving back more than they ever needed to take.

Internationally respected ‘Foreign Policy’ magazine reported recently that smart economies should be competing for refugees, not shunning them.

Raising quota

Last week, Labour announced our new policy to double New Zealand’s refugee quota over a period of three years.

If ever there was a time for New Zealand to take more refugees, that time is now.

We have all seen the images of hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming into Europe on foot, so desperate to escape they are prepared to leave everything and trek thousands of miles. Worse are the images of those who did not make it, including Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old, who drowned as his family tried to cross the Mediterranean Sea. The photographs are heart-breaking.

The fact is that the world is in the middle of the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. It is estimated that more than 4.6 million Syrians have fled their homeland because of the conflict. That more than the entire population of New Zealand.

Australia ahead

Meanwhile, New Zealand’s current refugee quota is 750 per year. We have not raised our refugee quota for 29 years, and to our shame, Australia now accepts more than three times as many refugees per capita as New Zealand.

The Government has agreed (but only after considerable pressure from the public) to take an extra 600 Syrian refugees over the next two and a half years, saying any more would ‘stretch the system.’

The reality is that New Zealand has a robust resettlement system, with unused capacity.

We also have a history as a good global citizen. New Zealand has always been a leader on the world stage, known as a leading voice for compassion and human rights.

Last week, a petition signed by 20,000 people calling on the Government to double the refugee quota was presented to Parliament. Sadly, National Party politicians were nowhere to be seen.

In the scheme of things – and we are talking multiple millions of refugees – 750 might not seem a lot, but it is still 750 people who are being given the chance of a far better life. And that is a big deal.

Low cost

The cost of settling these extra families will be less than 0.1% of government revenue. Groups involved in the resettlement process say they have the resources needed to cope with the extra workload.

Yes, we know there are issues such as housing, child poverty and health underfunding that must also be tackled but for every refugee New Zealand opens its doors to, we are repaid in multiple by the contribution they will make to our country.

New Zealand is a small country but we can make a big difference on the world stage when we lead by example, and that’s what we can do by doubling our refugee intake.

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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Photo Caption:

David Shearer with Abann Yor

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