Increase in refugee quota is an insult

Refugees-welcome-t-shirts

Anyone hoping that the NZ government would be doubling the refugee quota was taught a lesson today.

Today, the government announced the outcome of the three-yearly review of NZ's refugee quota. The much anticipated result is pathetic - a meagre increase by 250 places to 1000, and that not even for another two years. (The full press conference can be found here).

This is a slap in the face of all those who have stepped forward to welcome refugees. Immigration minister Michael Woodhouse admitted that there was a “strong call for a doubling of the quota”, but dismissed this as “simplistic”.

The decision has rightfully been slammed as callous, shameful and inhumane by DoingOurBit and Amnesty International.

The new figure is not even an adjustment for the increase in population (42%) that has occurred since the quota system was put in place almost 30 years ago. On a per-capita basis the refugee quota will still be less than what it was in 1987.

But it is worse than that. Woodhouse also announced that in response to the outpouring of support for refugees by the public last year, an additional ‘test’ contingent of about 25 people would be settled by ‘community groups’. When asked how this would work, Woodhouse indicated that church groups and rotary clubs could be involved in this, and that they would be expected to at least partially fund these activities themselves.

This is the slippery slope to privatisation of refugee settlement. At the same time that the government has made it quite clear that it doesn’t intend to significantly increase the quota for its own resettlement programme, it begins to offload its responsibility to the private sector.

This looks remarkably like the development that is taking place in social housing: Housing NZ, which clearly has the best resources to provide housing, is wound down, and instead unspecified ‘community groups’ are expected to take over. Except that none have indicated that they are keen, and even the ever-dominant Salvation Army has declined. The next step will be to hand the task over to property development companies.

The same thing is now happening with refugee settlement. Instead of simply increasing the funding for those agencies that are already involved in supporting refugees and know what they are doing, the government is abdicating its responsibilities and the whole task is shifted to other organisations. These organisations will then find themselves in the situation of having to prioritise between refugees and local homeless people. In the end it might be companies like Serco, G4S or Transfield who end up doing the resettlement.

The government is trying to turn the support for refugees that was shown last year by thousands into support for its privatisation agenda. We should not let that happen.

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