To the Good Members of New Zealand's Cabinet:
There are times when you must have wondered why you got into this racket. Endless evening meetings, another soggy triangle sandwich for dinner. Someone chewing your ear off over their driveway problems like Armageddon II was just around the corner.
But there are other times too. The times that are, honestly, pretty rare. When the blow-hards and the deal-making actually go quiet, for once. Maybe it's just one comment, one thank you, that makes you remember why you got into this work in the first place: To do the right thing.
There is a decision sitting right in front of you this month that is as clean as they come. One that has no politics attached, if you let it. One that no New Zealand government in power - yes, of either major party - has seen fit to fix for almost three long decades now. It's not sexy. The constituency who benefits most from it is one of the tiniest, least vocal groups in New Zealand. And there will be some who will argue blue in the face that you should act from a place of fear, not of fairness.
Make the decision to at least double New Zealand's refugee quota - for a start. Match that very modest rise with responsible, immediate, doubled support to this tiny sector so it can permanently provide better resettlement outcomes too.
This can be the single, clearest humanitarian imperative you can be proud to enact on your watch.
Even that small ask is shamefully too modest. Why? Because right now, despite the world's refugee crisis, the truth is we are doing less than we've ever done. The math is simple - and shaming. Our population has grown by 40 per cent over these last three decades since the quota was first set. There has also been a dramatic 75 per cent cut in asylum arrivals since 9/11. (New computer interdiction systems make it incredibly difficult for asylum seekers to even board a plane now.) Even if we doubled the refugee quota, that small increase will only get us back to what we used to do per capita decades ago.
We hold one of the world's greatest prizes - our peace. Average Kiwis are telling you loud and clear, we would be proud to share it.
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We are watching some of the richest countries of the EU turn their backs to those fleeing from war in a way we thought we would never see after Hitler's Europe. It is unconscionable not to do more now, especially from a geographically distant country like New Zealand that has the absolute luxury to decide how many people we accept.
We are not walking the talk, despite the Prime Minister's remarks entreating others to help refugees at the Security Council. Our world ranking of the total number of refugees we host just dropped again, now a dismal 94th per capita.
Even if we measure ourselves against countries with populations similar to our size, they put us to shame. Ireland (population: 4.6 million) will now take an additional 4000 refugees. Norway (population 5.1 million) is taking an additional 8000 Syrians. Lebanon (4.5 million) is now hosting well over a million Syrians alone.
Accepting just 750 quota refugees a year is now tragically cold-blooded, relative to the devastated lives we now ignore far from our shores.
About 40 per cent of our quota is made up of children. Kids, not terrorists. Why punish the vast majority of innocent citizens fleeing war by buying into false fear? We have a rigorous vetting process for choosing refugees already in place.
Even in Europe where people walk across landmasses, a report by Europol last month said that less than 0.01 per cent had terrorist links. The media and governments are quick to ignore that number as an excuse for turning their eyes away from the humanitarian imperative in front of them.
Introducing Canada's system of private sponsorship would be a welcome addition to our in-take. But transferring our national responsibilities on to private parties isn't the entire answer. Our government needs to step up too. Our permanent quota has to be raised significantly at the same time. It is the only way we can effectively grow the small sector long-term so that those who do arrive have a less rocky entry and ultimately get on their feet faster to become contributing citizens.
This isn't the time for tokenism. Or for setting a temporary emergency intake just to quiet what has been strong public support across parties, across church faiths, across public meetings, all calling for doing more. This isn't even the time for governing by poll reading, even if the polls do favour raising the quota. This one is personal.
We hold one of the world's greatest prizes - our peace. Average Kiwis are telling you loud and clear, we would be proud to share it. At the very least, double the refugee quota. History will be staring back at all of us.
To our Cabinet Members, in decades to come, this decision will ride on your shoulders. If this nation values compassion and the clear call to do the right thing, now is the time to prove it.
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