Debunking myths about refugees is AUT senior lecturer Maria Hayward’s goal for World Refugee Day [June 20] this year.
Hayward, who is director of the Centre for Refugee Education [Mangere, Auckland], says there is a huge amount of misinformation about refugees and their lives here in New Zealand.
Last week’s announcement that government was increasing New Zealand’s annual refugee quota from 750 to 1000 was “a step in the right direction”, according to Hayward, but not enough.
“New Zealand has not increased its refugee quota in 30 years and yet the international refugee situation at the moment is at crisis point. There is a need to settle over 1 million people urgently and over 60 million are currently displaced.”
“New Zealand does have a proud history of refugee resettlement and taking an extra 250 persons per year is certainly a positive move for this country but I feel disappointed that our quota was not doubled, at least.”
Hayward adds that New Zealand’s per capita quota puts us well behind Australia, and is a tiny fraction of the number of refugees welcomed into European nations and the US.
“Over 50,000 migrants came into this country last year, less than 1,000 of those were refugees.”
UNHCR regional representative Thomas Albrecht recently praised New Zealand for the excellent support it provides for newly arrived refugees which Hayward says is proof we’re equipped to do more.
The newly re-built Refugee Resettlement Centre at Mangere has just opened [18 June] and the new classroom buildings will be opened in early 2017.
“We have the capacity, skill and resources to welcome more refugees – and could easily have increased the quota to 1500 or more.”
Myth-busting about refugees in New Zealand
Myth 1: “New Zealand already takes in too many refugees”
Before last week New Zealand’s refugee quota had remained the same for almost 30 years. We are ranked 88th in the world per capita for refugee and asylum seeker resettlement by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) ranks us. There are 60 million refugees or displaced people in the world today and many other countries are stepping up to help. Just to match Australia, we would need to take 2,500 per year.
Reality: We’re taking far too few – not too many refugees.
Myth 2: “We should be looking after our own people in need first”
Yes, we should be looking after needy New Zealanders but we also have a moral obligation to also help the neediest people in the world, who have been forced to flee and have nowhere to go. Refugees may have experienced any number of atrocities including being tortured, imprisoned, raped, losing family members, starving, or having a home destroyed. This is daily life for millions of innocent people – we cannot ignore this need.
Reality: We can and should do both. Most New Zealanders would barely notice a doubling of our refugee quota but for those individuals accepted into the resettlement programme it is life changing.
Myth 3: “It’s so expensive to bring refugees to NZ and they are all on benefits”
The cost of bringing refugees to New Zealand is relatively low in the big picture of government spending. The 2009 tax cuts ($1.5b) together with the recent flag-change proposal ($25m) is roughly equivalent to the cost of bringing refugees to settle in this country for more than a decade. The Hugo reports show economic gains to countries from the contributions of former refugees and they show that the children of refugees do better in education and employment than any other population group – there is no cycle of benefit dependency.
Reality: The cost is minimal and refugees contribute to the economy.
Myth 4: “Refugees might be terrorists”
New Zealand has a very rigorous system for screening prospective refugees. A determination is made by the UN to ensure the applicant is genuine and then New Zealand does its own screening and selection. All refugees are checked against international (‘Five Eyes’) databases. The best way to avoid terrorism is to avoid marginalization and to welcome, include and value all newcomers – New Zealand does this particularly well. Most of us in this country are descendants of migrants, and a large proportion of those migrants were also fleeing from countries that had experienced war or disadvantage.
Reality: Refugees are not terrorists – for the most part, they are fleeing from terrorists.
Myth 5: “When NZ accepts people under the quota, another 100 people follow every person as part of the family reunification scheme”
This is a complete myth – only a maximum of 300 people per year in total are allowed to come to New Zealand under this scheme. There is no extra financial support for these individuals who have to pay their own medical tests, visas, travel costs, and so on. Also for the most part, they must be immediate nuclear family members, and they cannot have health issues or be elderly.
Reality: Family reunification conditions are very strict and less than one person per year comes to New Zealand for every two quota refugees.
AUT senior lecturer Maria Hayward talking about the role of the Centre for Refugee Education and why she loves working there