The world's largest refugee camp: Dadaab Camp in Kenya.
After emphasising the progress that the government has made, Woodhouse turned to proposals to raise the existing UNHCR mandated quota. He argued that, "some of the criticism about the current numbers has been misplaced." He wanted New Zealanders to know that in addition to our quota 750 refugees (+/- 10%), we also welcome around 300 people each year under the Refugee Family Support Category. (The Refugee Family Support Category policy allows refugees already resettled in New Zealand who meet specific criteria to apply to bring relatives to New Zealand. Ideally, the policy should benefit the refugee who enjoys having family members here, and the government, which saves money on social services as the refugee now has personal support.) Woodhouse also noted that New Zealand is "one of only around 26 countries which resettles refugees referred by the UNHCR."
Government agencies and NGOs united to mark World Refugee Day. It is encouraging to see cross-sector collaboration. This photo is from Refugees as Survivors.
Michael Woodhouse gave few indications in his parliamentary speech that the government might be willing to increase the refugee quota. He did stress though that this decision is still in the making, as the government will pronounce on the next three-year refugee quota programme early next year, "after considering all relevant factors." However, Woodhouse was far more candid in an interview the same morning with Susie Ferguson of Radio New Zealand. Woodhouse started off by saying that he didn't think the quota decision is "a case of either or" (presumably meaning either quality or quantity) and when pressed by Ferguson he wound up conceding that it is "quite possible" that the government would increase the quota. This is the interaction as I transcribed it, adding emphasis. [Listen for yourself here.]
Ferguson: But if it's not 'either or,' does that mean that seeing as... you saying you've done a much better job in the last few years, that means you are in a position now to actually up those numbers?
Woodhouse: Well that's certainly the hope that we have. Now I need... we've had this refugee resettlement strategy in place for the past two years now. I'm interested in seeing progress in terms of the quality of the settlement outcomes and if it's necessary - if it's, ah, true - that we're able to settle the 750 and their associated family reunification refugees better and more effectively, it is quite possible that we could increase the number. But as I say, the government has an open mind on that and we'll be taking advice early next year.
Woodhouse seems to be taking a substantially different tact in this interview than in his speech at Parliament. Under pressure from Ferguson (and it's not difficult to tell where Ferguson's loyalties lie!) did Woodhouse inadvertently overstep the mark and promise more than he intended? Or was this all part of the government's strategy? It is important to note that the government has certainly not committed to increasing the refugee quota, yet having an "open mind" and retaining a "hope" to increase it seems much more proactive than refusing to entertain the possibility of an increase.
Michael Woodhouse says it is "quite possible" the refugee quota might be increased.
Groups advocating an increase in the quota, whilst doubtless disappointed by the lack of concrete announcements, will likely hold the government to account on Woodhouse's words. The pressure will be on as the review of the refugee quota gets underway. There are other developments to also take into account. The Greens have released a draft Members Bill [read it here] which would amend the Immigration Act 2009 to allow for the quota to be increased to 1000. Denise Roche who is responsible for the bill has described it as a "modest increase that simply plays catch-up with where our refugee contribution ought to be." The proposed change is estimated to cost $19m over three years. Backing up this so-called "modest" increase, the Greens argue that millions of dollars have been spent on sending troops to Iraq and initiating a flag referendum, so there is no reason why we cannot invest in refugees.
Mohamed Shah Alam Ali, a Rohingya Muslim refugee originally from Myanmar, spoke personally to Radio New Zealand to ask the government to increase the refugee quota [listen here]. Spearheaded by journalist Stacey Knott, the Nelson Mail is publishing a series called "Settling for Good" that uses interviews and videos to share stories of refugees in the Nelson community (Nelson is one of the main areas where refugees are resettled.) [Have a look at the latest example here.]
Salil Shetty with Amnesty's new report on the global refugee crisis.
When I've talked to friends about this issue, a few have asked me if Amnesty International is also asking other governments to raise their quotas. The answer is that Amnesty International as a whole organisation has been outspoken in criticising governments around the world for not doing more to assist the estimated 50 million refugees in the world today.
Just a few days ago in Brunei, Amnesty produced a report provocatively titled "The Global Refugee Crisis: A Conspiracy of Neglect" arguing that "a paradigm shift is needed" when it comes to the current international refugee situation. The report focuses on vulnerable groups of refugees in Syria and sub-Saharan African countries. It is highly critical of the ways that wealthier governments have ignored refugee issues, leaving developing countries next-door to those steeped in conflict to pick up the pieces. As Amnesty argues, the Refugee Convention of 1951 establishes principles of international responsibility and burden-sharing, but these principles are being ignored in blatant contravention of international law. Governments may also be guilty not only of passively choosing not to intervene in desperate situations, but of actively encouraging xenophobia or turning refugees away from their borders. [Download the report here.] The report makes eight recommendations:
The refugee crisis includes sub-Saharan African as well as the Middle East.
- There should be an international summit on the global refugee crisis, focused on increasing international responsibility and burden-sharing.
- The Refugee Convention should be globally ratified.
- Human trafficking should be tackled.
- Resettlement needs identified by the UNHCR should be fulfilled.
- Governments should commit to saving lives, for instance by investing in search and rescue operations rather than prioritising border control.
- Governments should develop robust domestic refugee systems.
- Governments should refrain from engaging in xenophobia.
- Governments should fulfill UN humanitarian appeals for the refugee crises.
These are huge requests and taken together they might seem overwhelming (how can we possibly make progress when there is so much to be done?) But within countries we can focus on what the government is doing well (for New Zealand: our effective refugee resettlement strategy, the way that we co-operate across the government and NGO sector to support new arrivals, the way that we take on disabled refugees and women at risk) and where we can improve (increasing our quota and ensuring that we don't go down Australia's path of demonising refugees for supposed political gain.) Let's focus on these areas of potential and work across sectors to improve. As I said in an earlier post, we cannot rest on our laurels in a situation of such desperate need.