Dunedin, Syrian refugees and Saudi Arabia

The anti-refugee campaign continues at Whale Oil, with Spanish Bride using ‘Face of the Day’ as an excuse to repeat nonsense.

She posts what looks like an out of date file photo of Dunedin mayor Dave Cull and a report on violence in the city.

Dunedin’s Mayor is urging caution after a spate of violent incidents in the city…

In a sense there’s nothing that the community can do to prepare or prevent in some circumstances that sort of thing, you just have to deal with it.”

“But Dunedin is probably one of the safest communities in New Zealand” added Mayor Cull.


Atkins uses this as an excuse to launch into another anti-refugee rant.

I am glad that Dunedin is a safe place to live. It will not stay that way if it takes too many Islamic refugees. At the moment the numbers appear small but as each person can apply to bring family members into the country after they settle, the numbers we are told are not the true numbers.

The numbers are small. Dunedin will be one of six centres taking 750 refugees over two and a half years. It’s likely some of them will already be family groups.

Saying “the numbers we are told are not the true numbers” is meaningless.

Even if a hundred or so refugees settled in Dunedin – and stayed in Dunedin – and that number doubled through more family being able to join them – that’s a very small proportion of the Dunedin population, a fraction of a percent.

Atkins launches into bigger bull:

All the rich Muslim countries who are part of the UN like Saudi Arabia, have taken ZERO refugees…

The Guardian: Saudi Arabia says criticism of Syria refugee response ‘false and misleading

Saudi Arabia has said reports about its response to the Syrian refugee crisis are “false and misleading” and it has in fact given residency to 100,000 people as war rages in their country.

The kingdom’s statement followed a similar defence issued by the United Arab Emirates after questions were asked about how wealthy Arab states had reacted to the outflow of more than four million Syrians.

Saudi Arabia “made it a point not to deal with them as refugees” but had issued residency permits to 100,000 Syrians who wished to stay in the kingdom, the official said.

“With that came the right to free education, healthcare and employment according to a royal decree in 2012 that also states that Syrian students visiting the kingdom be admitted in public schools,” the official added.

The kingdom had supported Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and other countries in co-ordination with the host countries, while providing a total of about $700m in humanitarian aid, he said.

More on this in Western Media’s Miscount of Saudi Arabia’s Syrian Refugees.

And from Wikipedia:

Syrians in Saudi Arabia include migrants from Syria to Saudi Arabia, as well as their descendants. The number of Syrians in Saudi Arabia is estimated at around 500,000 people in August 2015 and consists mainly of temporary foreign workers.

According to the UNHCR’s representative for the Gulf region, there are 500,000 Syrians in Saudi Arabia, but in “official documentation they are referred to as “Arab brothers and sisters in distress”” and not as Syrian nationals

So the “ZERO refugees” claim is at least highly debatable.

Record number of refugess in 2015

The UN Refugee Agency has warned in a report that for the first time ever the number of people displacements could exceed previous records and could exceed 60 million people in 2015.

That’s equivalent to the population of the UK or France.

2015 likely to break records for forced displacement – study

GENEVA, Dec 18 (UNHCR)  With almost a million people having crossed the Mediterranean as refugees and migrants so far this year, and conflicts in Syria and elsewhere continuing to generate staggering levels of human suffering, 2015 is likely to exceed all previous records for global forced displacement, the UN Refugee Agency warned in a new report today.

UNHCR’s Mid-Year Trends 2015 report, covering the period from January to end June, and looking at worldwide displacement resulting from conflict and persecution, shows markers firmly in the red in each of the three major categories of displacement  Refugees, asylum-seekers, and people forced to flee inside their own countries.

The global refugee total, which a year ago was 19.5 million, had as of mid-2015 passed the 20 million threshold (20.2 million) for the first time since 1992. Asylum applications meanwhile were up 78 per cent (993,600) over the same period in 2014. And the numbers of internally displaced people jumped by around 2 million to an estimated 34 million.

Indications from the first half of the year suggest 2015 is on track to see worldwide forced displacement exceeding 60 million for the first time. In a global context, that means that one person in every 122 has been forced to flee their home.

“Forced displacement is now profoundly affecting our times. It touches the lives of millions of our fellow human beings  both those forced to flee and those who provide them with shelter and protection,” High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said.

“Never has there been a greater need for tolerance, compassion and solidarity with people who have lost everything,” he added.

New refugee numbers are also up sharply: Some 839,000 people in just six months, equivalent to an average rate of almost 4,600 being forced to flee their countries every day. Syria’s war remains the single biggest generator worldwide of both new refugees and continuing mass internal and external displacement. However, the report notes that even with Syria’s war excluded from the measurements, the underlying trend remains one of rising displacement globally.

A consequence of more refugees being stuck in exile is that pressures on countries hosting them are growing too  something which unmanaged can increase resentment and abet politicization of refugees. Despite such risks, the first half of 2015 was also marked by extraordinary generosity: On an absolute basis, and counting refugees who fall under UNHCR’s mandate, Turkey is the world’s biggest hosting country with 1.84 million refugees on its territory as of 30 June.

Lebanon meanwhile hosts more refugees compared to its population size than any other country, with 209 refugees per 1000 inhabitants. And Ethiopia pays most in relation to the size of its economy with 469 refugees for every dollar of GDP (per capita, at PPP). Overall, the lion’s share of the global responsibility for hosting refugees continues to be carried by countries immediately bordering zones of conflict, many of them in the developing world.

Forced displacement is a major problem in parts of the world. Living safely here in New Zealand it’s easy to underestimate the problems this causes individuals, families and countries.

Refugees for Dunedin

Dunedin has been chosen as another refugee settlement destination to cater for the influx  from Syria.

Dunedin chosen as new refugee settlement location

Dunedin has been selected as a new refugee settlement location following a whole of Government assessment.

The assessment included looking at employment, housing and Government services available alongside the support provided by the local community.

The decision to choose Dunedin was made by the New Zealand Refugee Resettlement Strategy Senior Officials’ Group – made up of representatives from Immigration New Zealand (INZ), Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Social Development, Office of Ethnic Communities and Department of Internal Affairs.

There are currently five settlement locations in New Zealand where quota refugees are settled after they have completed the six week reception programme at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre – Auckland region, Waikato, Manawatu, Wellington region and Nelson.

INZ General Manager Steve McGill says an extra settlement location is needed following the Government’s decision to welcome 750 Syrian refugees over the next two and a half years in response to the ongoing conflict in Syria.

Dunedin was considered alongside New Plymouth, Hastings / Napier, Invercargill and Tauranga.

Mr McGill says all the locations had certain advantages but Dunedin was selected for a number of reasons.

“Dunedin has a strong set of services and is a well-connected city where a number of government agencies have a presence,” he says. “There are good employment opportunities in the area, suitable housing is available and there is excellent support from the community.”

The university will be a benefit to some of the refugees – and the university coud benefit from some of the refugees as well.

I think this is a good thing for Dunedin. We could do with a little bit of positive news that involves mainating a population here.

An I have no worries at all about any security issues. They will only be a small number in comparison to the annual influx of students from around the world.

Syrian refugee response about the right balance

The Government response to the growing Syrian refugee crisis – giving more aid towards refugees in the Middle East and taking on an additional 600 refugees over the next three years – seems to be about right, going by all the criticisms.

While David Farrar at Kiwiblog says “I think this is the right thing to do. It is being part of a global citizen” in NZ to take in some Syrian refugees there’s strong opposition to allowing any Muslim refugees into New Zealand in the comments, typical of an entrenched anti-Islam core of commenters there.

Cameron Slater continues his anti-Key and anti-Muslim lines at Whale Oil:

From the other side Greg Presland joins the “back down” chorus in Syrian refugees – National backs down.

A Dominion Post editorial says We should take more than a few hundred extra refugees

The Government has bowed to popular pressure and decided to let in more refugees. This is a welcome move, even if it is too little and rather late.

Making a major policy announcement within a week may be too late for the media cyle the Dominion wants to feed but it seems quite rapid to me.

NZ Herlad in New stance on refugees not just for show.

The Cabinet’s response yesterday to the Syrian refugee crisis is no more than a token gesture. But public opinion was seeking no more. Nobody suggested this country had the capacity to take more than a few hundred of the million or more Syrians now surging into Europe. But a country with a refugee intake as low as New Zealand’s 750 a year certainly had a capacity to do more.

Naither the Dominion nor the Herald consider the apsect of giving Syrian refugees favoured status comparted to the many millions of refugees from other countries, nor the impact on New Zealand’s state housing and employment.

ODT writes in Turning the tide of complacency:

The Government has finally heeded the calls for emergency action in the Syrian refugee crisis and yesterday announced New Zealand will take in an extra 750 Syrian refugees over the next three years – at an estimated cost of $50 million.

The calls for action – from the New Zealand public, parties on both sides of the political spectrum, the international aid community, religious leaders and countries taking the weight of the burden – have become louder and more urgent in past weeks.

It’s really only become a public issue here in the last week.

There are the ongoing questions about infrastructure, integration, security and cost to consider, of course, and they are part of the reason the Government is treading with caution and spreading the ”burden” over several years.

The Government’s response shows some heart at last, but some real ”guts” are still needed if we want to be a real force for good in the world.

New Zealand can’t make much difference with the fifty million refugees hoping for resettlement. We can’t do a lot to sort out the Syrian and wider Middle East messes.

We can and should contribute to dealing with refugees and the causes of the refugees, which are many and complex.

But with predictable complaints on both sides the Government probably has about the right balance.

I expect that now the Government has acted the media focus will quickly shift to the next story, whatever that may be.

Don’t expect them to focus much more on Refugees: The Numbers.

More than 43 million people worldwide are now forcibly displaced as a result of conflict and persecution, the highest number since the mid-1990s. Several million people remain displaced because of natural disasters, although updated statistics are not available.

More than 15 million of the uprooted are refugees who fled their home countries, while another 27 million are people who remain displaced by conflict within their own homelands — so-called ‘internally displaced people.’

Major refugee populations include Palestinians (4.8 million), Afghans (2.9 million), Iraqis (1.8 million), Somalis (700,000), Congolese (456,000),  Myanmarese (407,000), Colombians (390,000), Sudanese (370,000).

United Nations Commissioner for Refugees

Government’s Syrian response

The Government has announced it’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis. This amounts to taking 600 refugees on top of our normal quota over two and a half years, plus an additional $4.5 million in humanitarian contribution to the crisis in the Middle East.


The Government has today announced New Zealand will welcome 750 Syrian refugees over the next two and a half years in response to the ongoing conflict in Syria, says Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse.

Of the 750 places, 600 will be by way of a special emergency intake above New Zealand’s annual refugee quota of 750, and 150 places will be offered within the quota.

“Like most New Zealanders, the Government is very concerned at the humanitarian crisis now unfolding in Syria and Europe that has visibly worsened in recent times,” Mr Woodhouse says.

“That’s why we will dedicate 150 places for Syrians within the existing 2015/16 annual quota of 750.  On top of that we’ll take in another 100 Syrians in this financial year, and a further 500 over the next two financial years (2016/17 and 2017/18).

“This means a total of 750 Syrian refugees will be welcomed into New Zealand over the next two and a half years.”

Mr Woodhouse said the cost of the additional places is estimated at $48.8 million over two and a half years. This is on top of the $58 million the Government already spends annually on resettling refugees.

“This commitment will be in addition to any decisions that may come out of the standard three year review of the refugee quota which will take place in 2016 as planned.

“Today’s decision is an appropriate response. Official advice is an immediate intake of any more than the extra 100 announced today for this year could put unreasonable strains on services, affecting the quality of resettlement outcomes for all refugees in New Zealand.

“There are practical limitations around our ability to provide enough housing, translators, health services –  all factors we need to take into consideration,’’ he says.

Today’s announcement is comparable to New Zealand’s response to the conflict in Yugoslavia in 1999 when we offered to take an extra 600 refugees.

The Government will continue to monitor the situation in Syria closely and review the possibility of further assistance during the 2016 quota review.


What is the process for the 600 additional places and how soon will the refugees arrive in New Zealand?

The process for the 600 additional places will be the same as any intake under the current quota.

The UNHCR carries out its own screening process and does not refer high risk or complex cases for resettlement.

In addition to this, all cases submitted for consideration undergo robust assessments as part of INZ’s decision-making process. That includes on and off-shore screening and assessment that focuses on credibility, risk and settlement to ensure that the person is not a security risk or character of concern to New Zealand, and that settlement in New Zealand is the right option for them.

INZ also specifically carries out its own security checks alongside NZSIS, biometric checks and health assessments.

INZ will undertake an initial mission to Lebanon in October and another in December for the current year.  The first 100 selected for resettlement will arrive in New Zealand in three groups – anticipated to be January, March and May 2016.

What services are provided for refugees once they arrive in New Zealand?

Quota refugees are given permanent residence on arrival in New Zealand and spend their first six weeks at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre.  While there, they complete a reception programme to support living and working in New Zealand and English language. They also complete medical and mental health assessments.

A number of government agencies and NGOs are involved in the settlement of quota refugees, including the Ministries of Health, Education and Social Development, Work and Income, Housing New Zealand, the Tertiary Education Commission, NZQA, Careers New Zealand, NZ Police, the Office of Ethnic Affairs, DIA and NZ Red Cross.

NZ Red Cross is contracted by Immigration NZ to provide settlement support in the community over the first 12 months. This includes an orientation programme and connecting refugees to services they require such as doctor’s appointments, English language, education and employment.



Foreign Minister Murray McCully has announced a further $4.5 million to help refugees displaced by fighting in Syria, bringing New Zealand’s total humanitarian contribution to the refugee crisis to $20 million.

“To date New Zealand has provided $15.5 million to support people affected by on-going violence in Syria and Iraq,” Mr McCully says.

“Our humanitarian support has helped build schools in refugee camps in Turkey, delivered basic education and skills training in Jordan, provided health and education support to Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, and funded the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Syria.

“The additional funding announced today will help refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan and will be delivered through partnerships with host governments, UN agencies, and New Zealand non-government organisations.

“One of the most effective ways we can help address this humanitarian crisis is by ensuring there are facilities to cater for refugees in countries neighbouring Syria and that these refugee communities are afforded adequate protection.

“Many Syrian refugees wish to return home once it is safe, so finding a political solution to the civil war in Syria needs to be the international community’s top priority.

“New Zealand is using its position on the United Nations Security Council to call for action and we continue to urge all members to work together to find a way of ending the violence,” Mr McCully says.

I think this is a very significant response in relation to the size of the problems in Syria and the size of New Zealand and our distance from the Middle East.

I think it’s appropriate for New Zealand to play it’s part as a responsible country.

Pressure on refugees

John Key is under pressure to do something soon on the Syrian refugee problem.

All the Government support parties are pushing for action.

Helen Clark is nudging tujings – NZ Herald reports Helen Clark urges PM to follow her on refugees.

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark has revealed she asked Prime Minister John Key to follow the example she set with the Tampa refugees when trying to address the Syria problem.

Responding to a question on Twitter about what she had told Mr Key on the issue: Helen Clark replied “Think Tampa.”

In 2001 when she was Prime Minister, Helen Clark agreed to take 150 Afghan refugees rescued from a fishing boat off the coast of Australia by the Norwegian container ship Tampa.

She has since described that as one of her proudest moments as Prime Minister.

Some current Labour MPs have used that as an example of the need to increase the refugee quota, although the Tampa refugees were brought in as part of the quota of 750 refugees rather than in addition to it.

Labour and the Greens are going to try bills to push for more than a token bump within the quota.

Mr Little said Labour would put up a bill to allow an extra 750 refugee places for Syrian refugees over the next year on top of the usual 750 quota for refugees.

A one off doubling of refugees in a single year will probably be challenging to manage.

A separate Green Party bill would permanently lift the quota to 1000.

That seems like a reasonable suggestion but it’s more symbolic, there isn’t a great urgency on it, the quota is up for review next year anyway.

It may have played to the media and political pressure this week but a rushed reaction would not have been sensible. The Government should be having a good look at available options.

Mr Key has also indicated he will now consider taking urgent action on Syrian refugees after earlier saying it would have to wait until a review next year – something that is likely to be discussed at Cabinet on Monday alongside further financial aid for the countries near Syria with refugee camps.

More aid for the millions of refugees in various countries makes sense. It’s something that can help do some good quickly.

While I think New Zealand should consider taking a one off increase in Syrian refugees that’s not something that can be done overnight. A process has to be worked thriough with the UN, and there has to be refugees who would meet our requirements and who want to come to New Zealand.

Just because some people here insist something should be done immediately doesn’t mean it’s practical or possible.

But Key has no choice but to be seen to be addressing concerns and demands in some practical way.

The pressure on doing something about refugees will continue, but there’s no quick fix for Kiwi consciences.

Those who do want something done about it immediately can donate to the many agencies involved in helping the refugees in and around Syria.

Insisting on compassion using other people’s money is easy, putting money into aid coukd actually help.

“Treason of the world, particularly of Arab countries,”

While there’s a political clamour in New Zealand to do more about Syrian refugees over a single photo of a drowned three year old, some are pointing the finger of blame much closer home in the Middle East.

Hindustan Times reports in The world’s ‘treason’: Drowned kid’s images enrage Syrian refugees.

Umm Hussein, a 40-something mother who fled Syria’s war in the central city of Homs to a poor neighbourhood of the Jordanian capital, said the photo was too much for her.

“We witnessed the bombing, the destruction… but I couldn’t cope with the picture of that innocent child, whose only fault was to have been born in Syria,” she said, tears welling up in her eyes.

Umm Hussein said she can’t afford to send her children to school, and she’s furious with the Gulf’s wealthy Arab oil monarchies, who are targets of a social media campaign highlighting their failure to take in refugees.

“Do Arab leaders have no shame when they see the photo,” she asked.

“They squander billions of dollars on weapons that rust in their armouries or to build the (world’s) tallest tower but, despite their humanity, they ignore the suffering of the Syrian people and close their doors to us.”

While Western countries have meddled for a log time in the Middle East much of the responsibility for the current problems should be on the local countries and rulers.

Syria’s civil war broke out four and a half years ago when President Bashar al-Assad brutally cracked down on peaceful protests against him and people took up arms.

It has claimed more than 240,000 lives and driven nearly half of Syria’s people from their homes. Some four million people have fled abroad, primarily to neighbouring Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

Jordan has taken in at least 600,000 of them, according to the United Nations, but the government in Amman says the figure is 1.4 million.

Nearly 80,000 of them have taken shelter at Zaatari, a sprawling desert camp in northern Jordan where Abu al-Yaman is the spokesman for refugees, and their plight has also left him furious.

He denounces what he calls the “treason of the world, particularly of Arab countries,” whom he also accuses of a closed-door policy.

“I’m not talking about Lebanon and Jordan,” he said.

“My rebuke is addressed to the countries who have the ability to help and are doing nothing, such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.”

Ideally New Zealand shouldn’t need to take refugees from a distant part of the world. It’s past time that those with money and power in the Middle East do more to sort their own problems out. We can at best dabble from a distance.


What now with refugees?

After a day of pressure from all directions it looks like the Government may revise it’s resistance to increasing New Zeealand’s refugee quota.

While I think that increasing the numbert of refugees we take in is overdue this raisies a number of questions. It’s not that world refugees are a new phenonenom. There have been millions of refugees stuck in camps around the world for years.

A drowned three year old in Turkey is certainly sad, but thousands of refugees have drowned already this year. Every time another child drowns is there going to be pressure to increase our refugee intake?

Every time there’s a war somewhere i the world are we going to be pressurred into increasing our refugee intake?

Should sudden media and social media consciences dictate our refugee policy?

Andrew Little and Metiria Turei have lambasted Key – how much would they increase our refugee intake?

A compassionate response is ok to an extent, but there must be limits and there must be some level of common sense.

Setting an emotionally reactioanry precedent is going to increase the number and intensity of emotional reactionary campaigns to set refugee and immigration policy by popular demand.

The refugee issue is far more complex than stoking up a bit of public emotion.

Refuge quotas – a little will help some people a lot

Pressure is building on the Government to increase our refuge quota from a level of 750 set in 1997.

All parties other than National have stated support for an increase as a refuge crisis grows around Syria and in Europe. John Key wants to kick the can down the road, saying the number will be up for review in 2016.

Each of National’s support partners want an increase.

  • UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne said the Government had “got it wrong” on the refugee issue. There was a strong case for lifting New Zealand’s annual refugee quote to at least 1000, Dunne said. That was “the very least” New Zealand could do as a good international citizen, Dunne said.
  • Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox said New Zealand could afford to take on more refugees as part of its global citizenship, and the Maori Party thought the yearly quota should increase from 750 to 1000. “We want to be sure we are able to cater for the people that come in – we call that manaakitanga – are we able to care for them and their needs?”
  • ACT leader David Seymour said he would not pick a number for how many refugees New Zealand should accept, but as a principle said the quota should be “pegged to our ability to support refugees”. It could be pegged to population – which would have it somewhere between 1000 and 1100, Seymour said.

What New Zealand can do is always only going to be a small drop in an ocean of humanity searching for a safe place to live.

Lebanon has a similar populatio to New Nealand but due to proximity to Syria have been burdened with 1.2 million refuges. That’s a huge influx, proportionally.

Germany is set to accept 800,000 refuges this year – but that could blow out with the increasing pressure of refuges currently on the move.

Increasing our quota from 750 to 1,000 won’t make a huge difference overall, but it may make a huge difference for 250 people. It’s a little to ask of a country that has the advantage of distance and a huge moat in protecting ourselves from people desperate to re-settle somewhere safe.