New Zealand's annual refugee intake of 750 was disgracefully low. An intake of 1000 is not much better. A doubling of the level, to 1500, as urged by Amnesty International and the Labour and Green parties, ought to be possible. The Minister of Immigration, Michael Woodhouse, points to the cost of ongoing support for those already admitted, many of whom are said to be still struggling to find work even after being here for up to 10 years. Doubtless a doubling of the number would mean much more than doubling the cost of refugee resettlement over the next 10 years. But the world is facing a wave of people fleeing from the upheaval in Muslim countries and all decent countries need to provide asylum for those in genuine danger.
We are extremely lucky. New Zealand is the only developed country that illegal migrants cannot reach under their own steam either by land or, realistically, by sea. We can, and do, restrict admission to those who have been vetted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as well as our own immigration and security agencies. That is one reason we do not need them to sign a "statement of commitment to New Zealand values" as suggested by Act MP David Seymour.
The checks run by the UNHCR and our own authorities would not, of course, extend to a test such as Mr Seymour suggests. It would be futile for one thing, as he acknowledged. While somebody could "sign with their fingers crossed", he said, the exercise would still be a way of promoting "our basic, Western, liberal values". Those values do not need promoting. Refugees are well aware of them; those values are the reason they want to come here.
One of those basic Western, liberal values is a tolerance of diverse views and open debate. Muslims who come here may arrive with distinctly non-Western values on the status of women and decency in dress and relationships. They justify their restrictive codes of dress and conduct on a sense of respect and self-respect that they find deficient in Western liberal values. Westerners find that sort of respect oppressive but it is good to have our attitudes challenged. To bar people because they do not share them would be the antithesis of basic Western, liberal values.
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The Government announced its miserable increase in the refugee quota the same day the United States and the rest of the world were reeling from the massacre in Orlando. The Cabinet has been considering an increase in the quota since late February and the timing of its decision is probably coincidental. But the atrocity was committed by an American-born son of Afghan immigrants who had been in the US for 30 years. On the facts known so far, the shooting has nothing to say about refugee policy or resettlement programmes. After 30 years, the gunman's parents were well settled. If Islamic radicalism played any part in his rampage, it was probably an excuse for motives more psychotic than religious.
New Zealand can afford to increase its resettlement capacity and double its quota. It should be done.
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