Greens' plans to boost refugee quota

Photo: Lynn Grieveson.

The Green Party has revealed a plan to increase New Zealand’s refugee quota from 1000 to 5000 within six years, arguing the sharp increase would merely see us catch up with other countries.

With conflict in Syria, South Sudan and other countries forcing millions from their homes, the UN’s refugee agency says the numbers of those displaced are higher than any point in its seven-decade history.

New Zealand’s role in housing those refugees has come under scrutiny, with accusations we are falling behind the rest of the world - and the Greens have chosen World Refugee Day to reveal their own policy.

The Government announced last year it would increase the refugee quota from 750 to 1000 from 2018 - a figure which was panned by advocates who had called for it to be doubled.

Under the Greens’ policy, the refugee intake would immediately double to 2000 a year, before progressively increasing to 4000 over the next six years.

Over that period, the party would build a second resettlement centre outside of Auckland to complement the one in Mangere and fund services for asylum seekers and refugees.

Part of the cost of the new centre and services would come from a requirement that high net worth immigrants who become New Zealand residents under investor categories - requiring minimum levels of investment over time - put some of their money towards building, maintaining and running the facility.

Quota increase 'drop in the bucket'

According to Green Party co-leader James Shaw, using 10 per cent of the minimum investment levels would raise $67.5 million a year.

However, the party estimates the cost of increasing the quota will rise from $66m in the first year to $350m once it is at 4000 places - a bill Shaw said was worthwhile.

“The Government spends $75 billion a year - if we can afford $20 billion worth of new military equipment, I think that we can afford this, right?”

The Greens also announced they would expand the increase the number of spots for community-sponsored refugees, which are in addition to the refugee quota, to 1000 places annually within three years.

The Government announced when raising the quota that it would trial the community sponsorship category, with Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse saying it would be “a modest programme” with around 25 spots.

However, Shaw said staggering the increase to 1000 would allow sponsorship to develop slowly while meeting the demand from churches and community groups.

“When the Syrian crisis was on the front pages last year, there was a massive outpouring from people who said we ought to do more, and also church groups and NGOs and community groups and so on, saying that they would help and that actually they’ve got capacity.”

He did not believe increasing refugee levels to those levels would add too much strain on services given current migration flows.

“5000 is really a drop in the bucket when you compare it to our overall population increase over time, or in fact just our overall population, so it’s really a rounding error in terms of those kind of numbers.”

Climate change visa

The party has also proposed a new visa to look after our Pacific neighbours threatened by climate change and rising sea levels.

A World Bank report released earlier this year suggested allowing open access to New Zealand for residents of Kiribati and Tuvalu, two countries at severe risk from the effects of climate change.

With climate change not recognised through the official UN refugee process, Shaw said the Greens would create a new humanitarian visa for people displaced by climate change in the Pacific, initially with a maximum of 100 places per year.

Communities in vulnerable countries like Kiribati was already being displaced internally, and it was a matter of time before it began to affect neighbouring countries like New Zealand.

“We should try and get ahead of that before it turns into a crisis….we want to basically learn how it works before it turns into a real problem.”

The party’s policy was backed from refugee campaigner Murdoch Stephens, founder of the Doing our Bit campaign.

Stephens said he had initially chosen to promote a doubling of the quota as it seemed what was most viable given the “lack of political will”, but the Greens' policy was more fair.

“It seeming so dramatic highlights how dramatically low our quota had been, because this doesn’t make us a world leader - it just brings us up to the levels of Canada and Australia.”

Stephens also offered praise for the climate change visa, saying it was a good way to prepare for the growing impact on Pacific countries.

“It’s not like a coup or a war or someone just having to flee in the middle of the night - we know what’s going to happen over the next 10 to 15 years, more or less, and so ultimately we should be planning for that kind of derailment ahead of time so people don’t have to do it on an ad hoc basis.”