Race Relations Commission Dame Susan Devoy says New Zealand needs to take on more refugees to show it is deserving of a seat at the United Nations Security Council.
In a statement made ahead of World Refugee Day tomorrow, the commissioner suggested that New Zealand could raise its overall intake through programmes outside the official quota - such as a new scheme which allows non-government groups to sponsor refugees at their own cost.
The National-led Government confirmed this week that it would raise the annual quota for the first time since it was introduced 30 years ago.
Beginning in 2018/19, the quota would rise from 750 to 1000 - an increase that NGOs said was too small given the humanitarian crisis occurring overseas.
Dame Susan similarly said it was a "very small, very safe" step to be making after 30 years without change.
"This is an opportunity for our Government to demonstrate why we deserve to be sitting on the UN Security Council and whether we have the right to chair the UNHCR annual tripartite consultations on resettlement for the next year," she said.
As part of its refugee quota review, the Government also confirmed plans to allow churches and community groups to sponsor 25 refugees, as part of a pilot programme based on a successful Canadian scheme.
Dame Susan said that the experimental programme provided an opportunity for New Zealand to take on more refugees.
"Communities across the country are showing they want to welcome refugees and we urge the Government to let them do so."
Church leaders have told the Government they have capacity for up to 1000 additional refugees.
Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse confirmed earlier this week that the pilot programme could be expanded if it proves successful, though this would not be until 2018 at earliest.
Mr Woodhouse said that the Government considered doubling the quota to 1500 but decided against it because of the cost and concerns about resettling existing refugees.
The quality of care was as important as taking on more refugees, Mr Woodhouse said. Some refugees did not have jobs despite arriving in New Zealand 10 years ago.
To mark World Refugee Day, the Government is reopening the upgraded Mangere Refuge Centre tomorrow.
It has been rebuilt at a cost of $15.9 million, allowing it to house up to 220 refugees at once.