Refugees should sign-up to our values, says Act's David Seymour

By Nicholas Jones, Isaac Davison

The Government last year confirmed an emergency intake of 600 Syrian refugees over the next three years, on top of the annual quota. Photo / iStock
The Government last year confirmed an emergency intake of 600 Syrian refugees over the next three years, on top of the annual quota. Photo / iStock

A 250-place increase to the refugee quota should come with a requirement for arrivals to sign up to "national values" including respect for women, a Government support party says.

Act Party leader David Seymour welcomed the quota's increase to 1000 from 2018 - but said new arrivals should sign a "statement of commitment to New Zealand values", including freedom of speech, and respect for women and those of different sexualities.

"Countries like Australia and Belgium require immigrants to sign a statement of commitment to national values. A New Zealand Values Statement could include a commitment to respect the basic freedoms that make this country a wonderful place to live."

The quota increase is the first in 29 years, but falls short of the 1500 places per year called for by Amnesty and parties including Labour, the Greens, and United Future.

Amnesty International said doubling the quota would only have moved New Zealand from 94th to 82nd in the world on a per capita basis.

"It leaves us well behind Australia, the United Kingdom, the US, Canada, Ireland. And those countries aren't leaders, they are well," executive director Grant Bayldon told the Herald.

Labour leader Andrew Little said the announced increase did not keep pace with population growth and was "really disappointing".

He rejected Act's call for a national values statement, saying vetting was already thorough and done by the UN, and New Zealand authorities with the help of our "five eyes" intelligence partners - the US, Britain, Canada and Australia.

Mr Woodhouse said the quota hadn't doubled because of the need to provide proper and ongoing support for those that do arrive. He said many refugees were still struggling to find work some 10 years after their arrival.

Costs will increase by about $25 million to $100 million per year.

"There is a significant investment that needs to be made to ensure that the settlement outcomes are good ... we are focussing as much on the quality as well as the quantity."

New Zealand's Catholic and Anglican Church leaders last September announced their communities could support at least 1000 refugees in their communities.

Referencing such a response, Mr Woodhouse said the Government would pilot a community sponsorship programme next year, initially involving about 25 places.

Details were still to be worked out, but there were similar models in other countries such as Canada.

"The Vietnamese and Cambodian refugee placement process in the late 1970s ... did place specific attributes, special characteristics on those refugees - for example the ability to speak English, certain job skills - and they were sponsored by churches, rotary clubs, lions clubs around the country," Mr Woodhouse said.

Possible criteria such as the ability to speak English would apply only to the small pilot programme, and not the wider quota, that would be selected on those most in need of support, Mr Woodhouse said.

Immigration NZ will also next year choose another location for refugees to be resettled after they have been processed at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre.

The current resettlement locations are Auckland, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Wellington, Nelson and Dunedin.

Under pressure to increase the quota as a response to the Syrian crisis, the Government last year confirmed an emergency intake of 600 Syrian refugees over the next three years, on top of the annual quota.

Mr Woodhouse said there are currently 50 places per year earmarked within the existing quota as a response to an international crisis. This would now be doubled to 100.

Other spaces would be filled by regional allocations, including 50 per cent from the Asia-Pacific region.

Labour, the Greens and United Future all wanted the quota doubled. NZ First leader Winston Peters has supported an increase in the quota, provided general immigration numbers are brought down significantly.

United Future leader Peter Dunne said the quota needed to be reviewed much more frequently and with council, community group and business sector involvement.

"Sadly, today's decision is too timid, and will leave New Zealand looking miserly and insular in terms of its approach to the refugee question."

Green Party immigration spokeswoman Denise Roche said the decision underscored the Government's "fundamental lack of heart on the issues that matter".

Islamic Studies Research Unit head Zain Ali, from the University of Auckland, described Mr Seymour's proposal for a values statement as "condescending" and "naïve".

"The assumption seems to be that [refugees] need to be reminded about what free speech is, what is it to respect women. It is slightly condescending."

It was naïve to assume that migrants or refugees could be "coerced" into adopting specific values simply by signing a piece of paper, he said.

"What makes New Zealand a great place is that people don't force values down your throat," Dr Ali said.

"There is openness here. People aren't in your face telling you 'This is what it means to be a Kiwi. Are you willing to be a Kiwi?'"

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters accused the Act leader of stealing his party's policy.

Mr Peters raised a similar idea for migrants last week, saying that all new arrivals to New Zealand should be interviewed to check that they respected New Zealand's "views".

Describing Mr Seymour as a "toy MP", he said: "Being a secretive admirer of New Zealand First is no excuse for plagiarising that party's leader's statements."

- NZ Herald

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