New Zealand should take only women and children refugees from Syria and tell the men to return home and fight, NZ First leader Winston Peters says.

Asked about the Government's decision to bring in an emergency intake of 600 Syrian refugees over three years, Mr Peters reiterated his position that more refugees should be settled - but only if immigration levels were significantly reduced.

"I think we can do better, but we can't do that while we've got mass immigration. And if we're going to do it, let's bring the women and children and tell some of the men to go back and fight for their own country's freedom, like we are," Mr Peters said.

His comments come as an Australian senator blamed the father of a drowned toddler for the boy's death.


Dr Zain Ali, head of the Islamic Studies Research Unit at the University of Auckland, contacted the Herald after reading Mr Peters' comments, to protest that the NZ First leader was telling men to go back to "a meat grinder".

"You are saying to them, 'go and fight for your freedom'. But in Syria at the moment there are, according to the BBC, 1000 different rebel groups - which one do you want them to fight for?"

New Zealand troops are in Iraq training Iraqi soldiers to fight against Islamic State.

The National Party have this afternoon blocked a new Bill from Green Party MP Denise Roche which would raise the country's refugee quota to 1000.

Prime Minister John Key has defended the scale and pace of his rescue package for Syrian refugees, saying if it was rushed it would jeopardise the success of resettlement and could mean refugees from other countries missed out.

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Yesterday, Mr Key announced New Zealand would accept 750 Syrian refugees over the next three years, including 600 in an emergency intake above the usual annual quota of 750.

The cost of resettling the refugees is estimated at $49 million in addition to the current $58 million annual cost of resettlement programmes.


Mr Key was criticised for his initial response to the crisis after he said New Zealand would not consider extra help until after a review of the refugee quota in the middle of next year.

Yesterday's announcement followed an increase in public calls for New Zealand to do more.