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Refugee migration into New Zealand: Wikis


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This article describes the stance of New Zealand towards migration of refugees in the past, present and the future. A refugee accepted into the country is granted permanent residency and may apply for citizenship. Although those seeking refuge know New Zealand for its openness, national security has become more important in response to global security. The upholding of individual human rights by the judiciary has come under scrutiny in the case of Ahmed Zaoui. A comprehensive review of the immigration act by the New Zealand government was announced at the end of 2006. The resulting bill before parliament is expected to reduce rights of appeal to one tribunal and give more discretionary power to immigration officers.


Summary of NZ involvement in refugee resettlement

Even before the 1951 United Nations Convention was being adopted by member states, New Zealand accepted refugees.

Those granted refugee status prior to the UNHCR Convention were

  • 1100 Jewish refugees during the 1930s
  • 837 Polish refugees, mostly children arrived in 1944
  • 4,500 refugees from Europe between 1949 and 1952

New Zealand acceded to the UNHCR Convention in 1960, and refugee policy is based on the obligations that flow from that, namely to offer protection to refugees. The text is currently set out in the Sixth Schedule of the Immigration Act 1987. The immigration act is not a description of policy, but rather a framework for assessing and determining claims made by people in New Zealand seeking refugee status. This act is currently under review, and major changes to the appeal process and deportation are proposed.

Those granted refugee status post the signing of the UNHCR Convention were:

  • Hungarian refugees following 1956 Hungarian revolution
  • Czechoslovaks from the 1968 Prague uprising
  • Persecuted Chinese
  • Asians fleeing Uganda in the 1970s
  • Chileans fleeing General Pinochet in the 1970s
  • Jews and East Europeans fleeing Soviet Union in the 1970s
  • Those fleeing wars in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in the 1970s and 1980s
  • Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan arrive in 1990s
  • Burma, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, Sudan and the former Yugoslavia in 1990s
  • Since 2000, Burundi, Eritrea and Djibouti

Categories under which refugees are accepted into New Zealand

There are two pathways that refugees find their way into New Zealand. The first is a quota agreement with UNHCR. The second is by way of an onshore claim to refugee status made after arrival in New Zealand. The status is then confirmed under conventions.

Each year New Zealand accepts 750 refugees as part of an agreement with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, whereby their status has been ‘mandated’ or authenticated by the UNHCR. New Zealand is one of fewer than 20 countries to offer a resettlement programme and has done so for more than 20 years. Even fewer countries make a commitment like New Zealand to reserving a place for women at risk, medical/disabled, and emergency protection cases within their quota. In doing so they offer a preferential option for those who are already marginalised and vulnerable, and the most difficult to place. For this New Zealand has gained international respect for its humanitarianism.

In addition to this quota New Zealand receives spontaneous asylum-seekers, whose claim is then either approved or declined by the Refugee Status Branch of the Immigration New Zealand, or by the Refugee Status Appeals Authority. In 2005, 1,585 refugee status applications were received, but only 12.5% were found to be genuine [1].

Refugees have also entered New Zealand in exception circumstances when requested by UNHCR. In 1999, in response to Kosovo humanitarian crisis, New Zealand accepted over 400 Kosovars for resettlement who had family in New Zealand. Again in 2001, New Zealand accepted resettlement for 130 Afghan asylum-seekers picked up by the freighter, MS Tampa, after their craft capsized in the Indian Ocean.

Refugee resettlement

Those refugees arriving under the UNHCR quota, arrive in Auckland in groups of about 120, and stay for the first six weeks at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre. They are offered a programme of residential orientation, and then move off to one of the five major resettlement areas, Auckland, Hamilton, Napier, Wellington, and Christchurch.

The group of asylum seekers who apply for refugee status on shore are equally likely to be held either in prison or the resettlement centre [2]. If they are found to be genuine refugees they will be granted residence, then they are able to access Social welfare in New Zealand and other benefits provided by the state. However, assistance that addresses their specific needs as they attempt to integrate into New Zealand is limited.

A list of difficulties they may experience:

  • ongoing trauma and stress
  • learning English as an additional language
  • prejudice and overt racism in New Zealand
  • non-recognition of qualifications from their home country
  • inability to gain similar jobs they left in their home country
  • lack of support structures within the local community
  • Cultural shock
  • separation from family members

Children of Refugee Claimants

In an attempt to reduce the incidence of foreign nationals giving birth in New Zealand, so that their children might adopt citizenship of that country, an amendment to the Citizenship Act 1977, was introduced, and called Citizenship Amendment Act 2005. It came into force in 1 January 2006. It prescribed that all New Zealand citizenship by birth would only apply to a child where one of its parents had the right to reside in New Zealand indefinitely (i.e. New Zealand Citizens, Australian Citizens and holders of residence permits). Other children born in New Zealand would be deemed to have the same status as the parent with the most favourable status in New Zealand. The consequence was that asylum seekers who had children born in New Zealand, but had not been approved residence would not be able to claim New Zealand citizenship for their children. Should the parents be declined refugee status (as happens in 85% of cases) the children would be able to be removed from New Zealand with their parents. Since 1976 more than 40,000 refugees have settled and built a future in New Zealand.

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