It is "reasonable" to expect male refugees from Syria to return home and fight, especially because New Zealand has "skin on the line", New Zealand First leader Winston Peters says.

The veteran politician was this morning defending comments he made yesterday that New Zealand should only accept women and children refugees from Syria.

The men should be told to go home to fight, he said.

Speaking to TV3's Paul Henry this morning, Mr Peters said it was "reasonable" to expect Syrians to defend their own country first.

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

READ MORE: Refugee crisis: What can New Zealand do to help?

"When I was looking at the television coverage out of Hungary there were a lot of fit young men there... my concern was in a crisis like this you would take the women and children first because you could take much more of them and you can do it much more quickly.

"However, when you look at the fact that we have a number of western countries with skin in the game, with their soldiers on the line, including our own, it would be reasonable surely to expect them to defend their own country first."

Solving the Syrian crisis should be the "prime objective", Mr Peters told Paul Henry.

"We could be doing much more, and much faster, and months ago I believe that was our thought."

On Monday, Prime Minister John 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.

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