ON REFUGEES AND DOING AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE
Tomorrow at 1pm, Ioane Teitiota will be on a plane out of New Zealand. Four seats beside him are booked for his wife Angua Erika and their three children, although it is not yet known whether they will also be on the plane.
The Associate Immigration Minister has the power to stop the deportation of the family to Kiribati, but I’m pessimistic about the likelihood of this as I have seen so many cases of deportation in my work as a Duty Lawyer. Once placed in custody, people are generally taken straight from jail to the airport and flown out of New Zealand on the first available flight, with no chance to say goodbye to their families and irrespective of the length of time they have lived in this country.
A public meeting last night in Auckland passed three resolutions in support of the family and called on the New Zealand Government to take real action on climate change, and to plan for the future of the Pacific nations most urgently affected by it. Reverend Iosefa Suamalie will today take those resolutions to Parliament, but he is likely to face an unsympathetic reception from the Government.
New Zealanders used to pride ourselves on our strong and independent stance on international affairs, and on doing more than would be expected from such a small nation.
In 1973, the New Zealand and Australian Governments took France to the International Court of Justice in an attempt to ban French nuclear testing at Mururoa. France ignored the court ruling that it cease testing.
The New Zealand Government responded by sending two navy frigates to Mururoa, with Cabinet Minister Fraser Colman on board.
Can anyone seriously imagine the current New Zealand Government even contemplating such action ?
In 1984, the incoming Government’s nuclear-free policy led to a stand-off with the United States and New Zealand being frozen out. But this country stuck to its principles.
In 1994, concern in New Zealand about the situation in East Timor following Indonesia’s seizure of the country in 1976 resulted in a parliamentary delegation travelling to East Timor on a fact-finding mission. In earlier years, the Lange Government had closed its eyes to the situation in East Timor and those lobbying for action were accused of “megaphone diplomacy” and told it was better to work behind the scenes.
Obviously, the New Zealand visit to East Timor was not something that made Indonesia happy. I was one of the journalists who travelled with the cross-party delegation and we did not know until the last minute whether we would be granted visas. But the trip nevertheless went ahead.
It’s impossible to imagine that happening in 2015. At the Pacific Islands Forum earlier this month, Prime Minister John Key did not support calls for a forum fact-finding delegation to West Papua and described issues in West Papua as bilateral matters for West Papua and Indonesia.
In 2001, New Zealand speedily stepped in to offer refuge to some of the Afghan asylum seekers from the Tampa (although the Tampa numbers were included within the overall annual refugee quota of 750).
That 750 figure has remained our quota year in and year out – and we don’t even fill it every year.
The horrendous situation in Syria and the flight of nine million Syrians since 2011 has placed pressure on this country to increase its annual refugee quota and also, specifically, to offer immediate asylum to a small number of those who have fled Syria.
The Government initially said it would not do either of those things.
Then, following public and political pressure, it speedily changed its mind and said New Zealand would offer refuge to 600 people who were homeless after leaving Syria. An additional 150 Syrians will be allowed to come here as part of the annual refugee intake.
This is the bare minimum New Zealand could do, and scarcely even that. And it’s hard to be proud of a decision based entirely on political expediency and utterly lacking in principle, or actual concern for the plight of Syrian refugees.
It is plain to all that the only reason the decision was made to grant homes to some Syrians was because of the public, media and political outcry.
It’s hard – if not impossible – to be proud of foreign policy made this way.
Why can’t New Zealand double its annual refugee quota ? We are currently 87th in the world rankings for our refugee intake, and falling further down the list. A doubling of the quota would be a very modest move.
And why can’t New Zealand either support a Pacific Islands Forum delegation to West Papua, or else organise a delegation of its own ? We’ve done it before with the delegation to East Timor, and that was at the time of another National-led government, when Jim Bolger was Prime Minister.
Why can’t we also take the lead on the issue of climate change refugees ? We’re a Pacific nation. We’re close to the most-affected countries and many of their peoples already live in New Zealand. Closing our eyes to the problem won’t make it go away.
Some New Zealanders say we can’t afford to do more. That’s not true. It’s all about choices. We could end child poverty in New Zealand, but we don’t choose to do so. Instead, we have spent money on successive rounds of tax cuts for the better-off.
We won’t raise our refugee quota, but we spent $300 million on the 2011 Rugby World Cup and $36 million on the 2013 America’s Cup. In this year’s Budget, the Government announced it would write off up to $1.7 billion owing in child support penalties.
Our foreign policy also appears to be lacking in any principle or coherence. At the Pacific Islands Forum, Mr Key made an extremely telling comment which seems to epitomise a lot -
“We’re never going to condemn someone like Australia or the United Kingdom or the United States or others.”
There is not a hint of principle in that statement.
At the candlelight vigil in Auckland calling on the Government to act on the Syrian refugee crisis and offer sanction to more refugees, Amnesty International New Zealand’s Activism Support Manager, Margaret Taylor, called for this country to stand on the right side of history. She said the world was facing a humanitarian crisis on a scale not seen since World War II.
Ms Taylor went on to say –
“This is our moment to shine as a compassionate country that asks how much, not how little, we can do to help others.”
Sadly, somewhere along the way, New Zealand has indeed turned into a nation that asks how little it can do, rather than how much. We need to find our way back from that if we are once again to be proud of ourselves and our foreign policy.
**We also need to do more for refugees once they arrive in New Zealand. They find it incredibly difficult to find work – and work is essential to give them the dignity of supporting their families and making a contribution to the community. Here’s information about how you can help refugees - https://www.redcross.org.nz/what-we-do/in-new-zealand/refugee-services/volunteer/.