Prime Minister John Key has signalled New Zealand's annual refugee quota will be lifted from the current levels of 750.

Speaking at a NZ Institute of International Affairs conference, Mr Key said the three yearly review of the quota was currently underway. That has been at 750 since 1987.

"You ask a fair question, is it enough? We have had that number for a very long period of time. It is quite obvious the world need for host countries of refugees has been accelerated quite rapidly in recent times."

He said he had not seen any of the work of the review. "But it's far from impossible New Zealand will lift its annual quota."


Mr Key said on the basis New Zealand could offer the same or a better level of re-settlement service to those refugees it would be "realistic" to argue for an increase in the quota.

It comes as Labour leader Andrew Little reignited his calls for the quota to be doubled to 1500 a year following his visit to a refugee camp in Jordan.

Mr Little said that visit had confirmed his view that as part of that review the quota should be doubled.

However, Mr Key issued two sounds of warning, saying any change would have to leave some leeway for New Zealand to offer one-off emergency intakes, such as last September's decision to accept 750 Syrian refugees over three years. Of those, 600 were part of an emergency intake outside the quota. The extra intake was expected to cost an extra $49 million over three years in resettlement costs, on top of the $58 million spent on refugee resettlement annually.

Mr Key said it was also important New Zealand had the capacity to properly re-settle those refugees if the quota was lifted.

He pointed to the $21 million upgrade of the Mangere Resettlement Centre, expected to be completed by the end of the year which increases the capacity of the centre to 196 beds with the potential to house 300 in an emergency situation. Refugees spend their first six weeks in the centre where they are given health checks and taught some of the basics of New Zealand life.

Other issues likely to be considered is the ability to provide housing, translators and extra health services to the refugees. Many are now being settled in cities such as Dunedin and Wellington because of the housing shortage in Auckland.