You've gotta love those crazy Icelanders. They may be a small country, they may be tucked up in a corner of the world few notice, but every once in a while, they come out with rare brilliance.
In the midst of the worst refugee crisis the world has seen since WWII, the good Icelandic government gave their answer to this worldwide humanitarian crisis. Their government stumped up to announce they would take a walloping 50 more places for refugees. The Icelandic public was not amused.
So what did they do? An Icelandic author asked how many folks would be willing to house or help a refugee, despite the government's lack of initiative. Suddenly the Icelandic public flooded his website with 10,000 offers of help.
You can guess where I'm going with this. Well, what do you know, I happen to be a Kiwi author. I happen to live in a small, safe corner of the world few sometimes notice. And our successive governments have chosen to increase our tiny refugee quota over the last three decades by a sum total of - zero.
This paltry 750 in-take number has landed New Zealand 90th in the world for the total number of refugees we take per capita (it's worse if you measure it by our relative wealth, then we fall to 116th by GDP).
Indeed, I watched in amazement as our Prime Minister stood at a press conference during Gallipoli commemorations in Turkey months ago. From the podium of a country that has opened its doors to almost 1.8 million fleeing Syrians, a country that is staggering under this tremendous humanitarian load, our Prime Minister was asked if New Zealand would increase our quota. He didn't hesitate. He said that our 750 number seemed 'just about right.' He said that increasing our quota was 'not likely'. You have to wonder if our Prime Minister had any sense of how completely out of touch the New Zealand response looked on the world stage at that moment.
But was our Prime Minister reflecting the real views of Kiwis on the refugee quota back home? If you listen to talkback radio, you might think he was. At first glance, Kiwis seem to want to keep things just as they are, thank you very much.
Its only when you start to look under the surface that the Kiwi response gets interesting. In June, RadioLive ran a listener poll asking if New Zealand should take more refugees. Despite fairly negative banter back and forth among callers on air, what did its listeners vote? A surprising 71 per cent were in favour of taking more refugees.
Then just last week, RadioLive ran another poll asking the same question. This one was a 'Sean Plunkett poll', a man not known for his ragingly leftist political views. This time listeners responded with 82 per cent saying New Zealand should take more refugees.
Obviously, no one would hold up RadioLive listeners as being statistically representative of all New Zealanders. But what's most notable here is that RadioLive's poll is probably more skewed toward a politically conservative audience. Yet, still they voted overwhelming to help more refugees. Kiwis can't agree on the sanctity of Pineapple Lumps and Vegemite at 82 percent.
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What this points to is something rare and precious in the dubiously snarky world of politics, something we should value; New Zealanders rightly see the refugee quota for what it is, a humanitarian issue and not a political one. This has nothing to do with right or left-blue, red or green. This is about watching children's bodies wash up in the morning tide on the shores of Greece and every thinking New Zealander finding themselves asking, how can I help?
So, here's my challenge, I ask only this: would you host or help a refugee? Make your mark, if you are part of that quiet majority that wants to see New Zealand do more. Here is a website that is already running the initiative, Facebook: Open Homes link or comment on WagePeaceNZ.
What will it be? Will our Prime Minister continue to defend the status quo of doing so little by any international measure? Or will the larger sights of average Kiwis push our Government to make a more meaningful contribution on the world stage?
I'm putting my money on the New Zealand people. Because quietly, every single one of us understands one thing: New Zealand's greatest richness has nothing to do with money. New Zealand holds two things in the palm of its hand that most of the world can only envy; safety and peace. Isn't it time we unclenched our fist just a little to share?
Tracey Barnett is the author of 'The Quiet War on Asylum' and runs the refugee awareness initiative, WagePeaceNZ.
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