The Government will today announce an emergency package to allow hundreds of Syrian refugees to come to New Zealand.
The one-off intake will go "over and above" New Zealand's annual refugee quota, but will not number into the thousands, Prime Minister John Key said this morning.
The move follows domestic and international calls for governments worldwide to do more to help the 13.5 million victims of the biggest refugee crisis since World War II - pressure which effectively forced Mr Key's hand a week after he ruled out further measures until after a review of refugee quotas next year.
It comes after more than 7000 asylum seekers surged across Hungary's western border into Austria and Germany over the weekend. They were met with cheers, hugs, hospitality and the hope of a new life.
This morning Mr Key confirmed he would announce a package to take "over and above our normal quota" of refugees in response to the humanitarian crisis in Europe.
However, he would not go into details about the emergency move until the official announcement later today.
"I'll tell you this afternoon and I'll tell you the total cost, but it's hundreds," he told TV3's Paul Henry this morning.
Mr Key confirmed it's "not thousands", and said it would likely be three intakes over two to three years. But he said the number was not as low as 100, "as some people have been saying".
More money would also be provided to help, he said.
"Bluntly, I need to take the paper to Cabinet and go through the proper process. Since the middle of last week the officials have been working on exactly all the options available and not every member of Cabinet has even seen those, so I need to take them through how that might work, the costs of that."
Mr Key said he thought New Zealand's response to the crisis had been "about right".
"We've take extra Syrians in recent times anyway as part of our 750 and we've been pouring money in, in actually a very practical way," he said.
However, Mr Key said he will continue with the quota review scheduled to take place next year, which will look at whether the country can increase its current refugee intake of around 750.
"We've been getting advice from the UN [on] can we take people relatively quickly, because again I think while people want us to respond with extra people, they definitely want us to respond for Syrians," Mr Key told TV3's Paul Henry this morning.
The change of stance coincides with pledges of extra help for displaced Syrians from leaders across Europe and around the world.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said the UK would take thousands more refugees and yesterday Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said his country would likely take more people from Syria. Finland's Prime Minister Juha Sipila has even offered his own home to refugees because it is rarely used by his family.
In New Zealand the Labour Party and Green Party called for a one-off special intake of 750 Syrian refugees this year and a permanent lift in the overall quota to 1000.
Labour leader Andrew Little said organisations working with refugees had told him it would be a stretch but was possible.
Any move by the Government had to be meaningful. "If it's just 100 or even 200, I don't think that's meaningful," he said.
Mr Little says he will abandon his plans to introduce a bill for an emergency intake of 750 Syrian refugees if the Government's response is adequate.
Mr Little said last week he will try to introduce a bill to Parliament which would have provided 750 places for Syrians over the next year in addition to the overall refugee quota of 750. It was to complement a Green Party bill to double that quota permanently to 1000 places.
Mr Little said news the Government planned an emergency intake showed it had finally listened to the calls for action.
"Our response in situations like this says everything about who we are as a nation, more than any change in flag ever could. I believe the Government has now heard that call and is responding."
Mr Little said he will pull his bill if the scale of those measures was enough.
"If John Key's announcement this afternoon offers similar relief to these people then there will be no need for the bill."
He said it had wide cross-party support. Despite that, to introduce the bill by seeking the leave of Parliament means it will be rejected if only one MP objects and the Government is likely to deny leave.
Mr Key has previously voiced concern about ensuring New Zealand did not offer to take more refugees than its resettlement process could handle.
New Zealand takes about 750 refugees from the UN's refugee agency. There have been special intakes in the past but most have been within annual quotas, including the Tampa refugees from Afghanistan in 2001 and provision for 100 places for Syrians last year.
Since the conflict in Syria began in 2011, New Zealand has taken about 120 Syrians who arrived as part of the quota, under family reunification policies or as asylum seekers.
As more countries in Europe began to join Austria and Germany in taking refugees, Mr Key has been under growing pressure to do the same.
A Double the Quota campaign swept over social media and there were calls for urgent action from the leaders of the Catholic and Anglican churches, Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy and groups working with refugees.
From contempt to land of promise
More than 7000 asylum seekers have surged across Hungary's western border into Austria and Germany, following the latest policy turn by Hungary's immigrant-averse Government.
Within hours, travellers predominantly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, who had been told for days they could not leave Hungary, were scooped from roadsides and Budapest's central train station, bussed to the Austrian border and allowed to walk across.
They were met with unexpected hospitality including free high-speed trains, boxes of supplies and well-wishers offering sweets for everyone and cuddly toys for children.
Even adults absorbed the sudden welcome with a look of wonderment.
"I'm very glad to be in Germany. I hope that I find here a much better life. I want to work," said Homam Shehade, a 37-year-old Syrian shopkeeper who spent 25 days on the road. He left behind his parents, a brother, wife, a 7-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl who he hopes to bring to Germany. Until then, he said: "I hope that God protects them from the planes and bombs. My shop was bombed and my house was bombed."
As the migrants departed Hungary, some leaders took a few final swipes at their departing guests.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Hungary drove the migrants to the border only because they were posing a public menace, particularly by snarling traffic and rail lines west of Budapest when they headed for Austria on foot.
Orban said the people being taken by Germany mostly come "from regions that are not ravaged by war. They just want to live the kind of life that we have. And I understand that, but this is impossible. If we let everybody in, it's going to destroy Europe."
German media estimate this year's bill for providing sanctuary will be 10 billion ($17.75 billion), should the forecast 800,000 arrive.
Germany typically places newcomers in housing earmarked for asylum seekers. They are provided free meals, clothing, healthcare and household support, as well as monthly spending money averaging 143. After three months, they receive restricted work opportunities.
By contrast, the migrants left behind in Hungary that stuck them in sweltering outdoor facilities on the Serbian border, left any aid to private charities, and pocketed the money the migrants paid to buy cross-border train tickets that they were blocked from using.
- additional reporting AP