I have just finished helping my 15-year-old son with his social studies cue cards. He has an exam tomorrow and one of the topics is New Zealand's refugee quota and whether it should be raised or not.

I separated the should-raise-quota cards from should-not-raise-quota cards and asked him to recite the reasons and evidences for each.

Should Raise Quota. Reason 1: "New Zealand's international reputation is at stake." Should Raise Quota. Reason 2: "Refugees benefit New Zealand."

"Is that all the reasons?," I asked.


"Yes, ask me about the evidences Mum," he implored me impatiently.

Should Raise Quota. Evidence 1: "New Zealand ranks 121st out of 190 countries for the total number of refugees we host, measured by our GDP." Should Raise Quota. Evidence 2: "Studies in Europe show €1 spent on refugees earns €2 in five years."

(*See below for reasons and evidences against raising the quota.)

We finished the cue cards and he went to bed. I was left pondering on why the most important cue card was missing. Then it dawned on me that I was partly at fault for the missing cue card. The problem was with the way, people like me, had made the case for refugees.

We always held up the success stories. For instance, we referred to the 131 rescued Tampa refugees in 2001 and listed their contributions as nurses, lawyers, engineers, doctors, etc; as if capacity for professional accomplishment was a prerequisite for assessing whether someone's life was worth saving or not.

Why can't refugees be the same mix of high and low achievers as ordinary Kiwis? Why should they always be regarded as an investment? Shouldn't we take in refugees for a simple reason that our humanity compels us to offer refuge to those escaping war and persecution?

A former-refugee from Iran, Golriz Ghahraman, was recently sworn-in as a new Member of Parliament. Her seat is a great cause for celebration for those us who believe in value of diversity in a representative democracy - you know, "A government of the people, by the people, for the people".

Golriz's surname, Ghahraman, in Farsi, means "champion", a befitting name given Golriz's previous work as a human rights lawyer and her achievement in becoming New Zealand's first former-refugee MP.


The refugee community in New Zealand and the Iranian diaspora everywhere are rejoicing at Golriz's success. They and other refugee supporters will, no doubt, forever hold Golriz up as an example of a beneficial refugee, one who turned out to be a great investment.

But, looking at some of the comments posted on Golriz's Facebook, it is clear that becoming a good refugee is still not good enough. One comment refers to Golriz as "a feminazi piece of trash".

Another lengthy multiple-post comment degenerates into Islamophobic rants and ends with a shocking sentence: "It's time to load your rifle".

To these people, it seems, there is only one thing that is worse than an undeserving and needy refugee and that is a powerful, self-sufficient and outspoken refugee who regards herself or himself as equal to the natives.

Arguments about refugees being good investments are clearly of no consequence to the xenophobes above. To them, refugees will always be either lazy and ungrateful or powerful and threatening - either a burden or a "Trojan horse".

I hope, in her maiden speech to the Parliament, Golriz does not deem it necessary to express gratitude to New Zealand for offering her and her family refuge.

Refugees do not have to be any more grateful for living in this safe country than other Kiwis and, if they do feel grateful, it should be because gratefulness is critical to their happiness - not their acceptance.

I am very suspicious of those who hold firm to the idea that refugees must be grateful - their interest is not in humility but obediency.

They want to uphold a power dynamic that assumes refugees as inferior, never equal and certainly never superior. In reality, refugees have no debt to repay because human lives should never be a matter for investment.

I made two new cue cards for my son.

NZ should raise quota. Reason 3: Our humanity. NZ should raise quota. Evidence 3: A poem by the 13th-century Persian poet, Sadi of Shiraz: "Human beings are members of a whole. In creation of one essence and soul.

If one member is afflicted with pain, other members uneasy will remain. If you've no sympathy for human pain, the name of human you cannot retain."

( *The reasons for not raising the refugee quota were: 1, opening the floodgates to more refugees and 2, compromising our world class refugee resettlement programme.

A quote by John Key about keeping future arrivals of more than 30 in detention camps and another about "diluting the programme" were used as evidences.)

• Donna Miles Mojab is a British-born Iranian who migrated to New Zealand with her Kiwi husband.