No bias against Middle East and African refugees – Lees-Galloway
The Immigration Minister is defending a move to reject a United Nations request for a greater increase in the number of African and Middle Eastern refugees.
Iain Lees-Galloway said the government has to balance global and regional needs as it sets refugee policy. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller
New Zealand is due to accept 1500 refugees next year, about half of them from the Asia-Pacific region.
The government last month announced it was dropping a requirement for African and Middle Eastern refugees to have a family link to New Zealand, which was welcomed as the overturning of a racist policy.
However, Cabinet papers show United Nations and government officials urged the government to increase the number of African refugees to a quarter, and those from the Middle East, to 35 percent, as that’s where the greatest need is.
Instead, the government chose to increase their proportions by just 1 percent to 15 percent each.
Iain Lees-Galloway told Morning Report that it was about balancing the global need for refugees and the demand from New Zealand’s own region.
Under the last National government’s ‘family link’ policy only about 6 percent of refugees came to New Zealand from Africa and the Middle East – much lower than their target of 14 percent.
Under the current government, the new policy would result in 30 percent coming from those two regions – a substantial increase, he said.
Despite advice from officials and the UN, the government saw a need to balance the global need with regional need where New Zealand was expected to show some leadership.
Mr Lees-Galloway was adamant the current policy does not have any bias against people from the Middle East or Africa.
“Look, I made that very clear in the Cabinet paper that I took to Cabinet that there is no security issue with people coming from those parts of the world.
“All refugees are incredibly closely vetted – more so than probably any other migrants coming to New Zealand and our security agencies and all other government agencies made it absolutely clear to Cabinet that they see no additional security risk by accepting people from those parts of the world.”
He downplayed any move from New Zealand First not to increase the intake from the Middle East and Africa.
Instead, party leader and Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters had asked that New Zealand’s reset of its role in the Pacific be considered when setting refugee numbers.
Guled Mire, who came to New Zealand from Somalia over 20 years ago, is a community advocate who successfully campaigned for the government to change the ‘family link’ rule.
He said it was a victory that a racist rule had been abolished.
Guled Mire is welcoming the dropping of the family link rule, but says questions remain. Photo: RNZ / Sara Vui-Talitu
As well, papers released show so-called security concerns used by the last National-led government were “completely bogus”.
He said New Zealand’s emphasis on the Pacific was still being used as a smokescreen and it was unclear why the numbers have not increased substantially as advised by the United Nations and others.
It would be interesting to see, as further papers were released under the Official Information Act, whether there was a bias against refugees from the Middle East and Africa.
“We still don’t understand why 15 percent [from the Middle East and Africa] when that was not even considered as part of the official options that were proposed.”