The story of a three-year-old Syrian toddler circulated on the internet recently. The story was accompanied by photos of his lifeless body washed up on a beach in Greece after his family fled the war. The boat they were in had capsized, and the boy was lost in the water by his father.
The pressure from the New Zealand nation to do more to help refugees has since increased dramatically.
Since the Syrian war began in 2001, more than 200,000 people have been killed, and more than four million have been forced to leave their homes.
Currently, New Zealand takes about 750 refugees from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) agency each year. This statistic has stayed the same since it was first created in 1987. There have been special intakes in the past, but most have been within the annual quotas.
Prime Minister John Key recently announced that the refugee quota for New Zealand will be increased from 750 to include an extra 600 Syrian refugees over the next two-and-a-half years, but says refugee services will be “stretched”.
New Zealand has already taken about 120 Syrian refugees who arrived as part of the annual quota. But as the conflict in the Middle East increases, more countries in Europe have followed Austria and Germany in taking in other refugees, and now the New Zealand government is under growing pressure to do the same.
Resettling the refugees into New Zealand will cost around $50 million dollars, with Key saying that’s about all the country can cope with, for the time being.
“The official advice I’ve had is that what we are doing is already stretching the system,” says Key. “It is proportionate to what we are capable of handling easily.”
However, the UNHCR ranks New Zealand at 90th in the world, based on the number of refugees admitted per capita – far behind many developing countries who have less resource to cope with such an influx.
Since 2011, New Zealand has given $15 million to the UNHCR for improving refugee camps. It has also spent $26 million towards the America’s Cup, and it’s estimated that the flag redesign and referendum will cost $26 million.
Immigration New Zealand officials will travel to Lebanon in the next month or so to screen and select refugees. The first 100 refugees will begin arriving in January next year.
A review of the quota – which hasn’t changed since it was first introduced – will take place in 2016.