Anglican Bishop of Wellington, Justin Duckworth, says NZ is ready and prepared to welcome more refugees into the country.

Our geographical isolation from the rest of the world has never before prevented New Zealanders from opening their homes, hearts and resources to the displaced.

However, despite being aware of the current refugee crisis for years, it has taken the tiny, vulnerable body of three-year old Alyan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish beach, for us to be compelled into action.

Our rational selves know that this is not a new occurrence, and we are embarrassed by this. On Monday the New Zealand government drew its line in the sand - only slightly further back from the shore than before - with the announcement of an additional 600 places for refugees over the next three years. We can be grateful for this, but it can only be a first step towards something better.

As we process what we have seen with full hearts, it can be hard to know where to begin to make a meaningful difference to those who need it most, but New Zealanders have proved that we are willing to give it a go.

On Saturday, in an urgent open letter to the 60 churches in the Diocese of Wellington, I invited each congregation to consider 'adopting' one refugee family into their parish. Come Monday morning, the response has been positive and beautiful.


At the time of writing, the churches of the Anglican Diocese of Wellington have committed to supporting 40 families - representing some 160 people. This is over 20 per cent of New Zealand's total annual refugee quota, or over a quarter of the total that John Key announced would be welcomed into New Zealand over the next three years.

The responses are summed up by one parish: "How can we possibly say no"?

Almost all churches have risen to the challenge of supporting one family, in generous and beautiful ways: one congregation member brought in a jar of coins to kick-start the fundraising drive. Another parish is considering options for its vacant land as a site for temporary accommodation. Arabic-speakers put their hands up; one rural parish offered accommodation with access to a free dairy cow.

There has been medical, legal, psychological and language support, help connecting families with employment and social services. There have been offers of furniture, bedding, clothes, home-kill, toys and playdates. And there has been accommodation - rooms, sleep-outs, whole houses. Responses from the poorest church communities are the most telling - often the most whole-heartedly generous.

These people often understand more than others what it is to be desperate. These responses are flowing in, but they are not ad hoc. They are from professional people who can provide the support and networks required to integrate refugees into new communities. They are from people who themselves have experienced hardship, and know where to go for help.

This response reflects the compassion felt amongst the wider community as witnessed in social media, in local protests and in contributions of aid and support offered to refugee agencies. I know that it's not just 'church folk' who are willing to contribute in this way.

But these loving responses are largely impotent when the gates to New Zealand are only partially open. Many New Zealanders have found themselves in an interesting political place: in a largely individualistic society we value our freedom to choose our own course of action - and yet when that action is compassionate and altruistic, we find that the systems in place make it difficult for us to achieve the change we want.

In Monday's announcement, it is interesting to see how far removed our government is from the values of care and compassion expressed by its people. As a collective of loving and caring individuals we have the power to initiate social change through our refusal to accept this new quota enforcement - through our lobbying, our financial aid, our protests, our responsible use of social media, and through our prayers.

My message to our leaders is this: let more refugees in.

This tragedy requires a humanitarian response - economic cost should not be the primary concern in our country's decision in how to act. Let Kiwis do what we do best - providing generous hospitality. New Zealand society on the whole knows that our country becomes richer, not poorer, when we extend our hands in welcome.

It is my prayer that ordinary New Zealanders will be permitted to stretch and extend Jesus' vision of grace and mercy. We are prepared. We know what to do and how to connect people to what they need. Let us do it.

Justin Duckworth is the Anglican Bishop of Wellington.