Immigration is a hot political potato in most developed countries. Donald Trump is gaining loud cheers in the American primary race for his promise to "build a wall" against illegal immigration from Mexico.

The European Union is struggling to maintain passport-free movement between its members as public opinion rises against a tide of displaced people seeking asylum from the war in Syria and other sectarian conflicts in the Islamic world.

Australians feel their borders threatened by seaborne people and support governments that send asylum seekers to sweltering offshore prisons.

Even here, where it is only in the past few years that numbers arriving have exceeded numbers leaving, some now suggest the solution to Auckland house prices and the council's "intensification" plan is to stop immigration.


So today might not be an ideal moment for the Cabinet to consider raising the number of refugees this country takes in each year. But it ought to do so. The annual quota of just 750 has been unchanged for many years and is far too low for the scale of need in the world today.

Doubling the number, as it is being urged to do, might not be as easy as it sounds. If resettlement is done properly - and New Zealand appears to do it well - it requires individuals and families receive a great deal of assistance. Much of that comes from charities and volunteers who provide help with language and guidance on all elements of daily life in an unfamiliar country.

This country is fortunate that, unlike Australia, the United States or border countries of the EU, it is not beset by illegal immigration on a large scale. We take all our refugees from the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. Even last year, when pictures of drowned 3-year-old Alan Kurdi on a Greek beach caused a worldwide surge of compassion for Syrians trying to enter Europe, the New Zealand Government's special intake of Syrians was organised through the UNHCR.

Nobody wants a panic-stricken response to a refugee crisis. Nobody in New Zealand would want an increase in our refugee quota simply for political appearances. An increase must be accompanied by a lift in the capacity of this country's services to help refugees, including receiving centres.

Auckland may be the best place for another receiving centre, since the city has the largest number of ethnic communities already. But with such a high proportion of New Zealand's population now in one city, and so many regions in need of an economic boost, it would make sense to settle refugees even more widely than currently (refugees are housed at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre for six to eight weeks, some then move on to other regions).

There should be no doubting that refugees are an economic boost, even if it takes five years or more for most of them to become self-supporting. In the meantime, they and their children bring needs and spending to the locality, lifting its economic activity.

Far more important, New Zealand is doing what it can to help the less fortunate and let them live in safety.

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