It seems that everyone has an opinion about the Syrian refugee crisis. From the top dogs in politics to celebrities to the man in the street. A lot has been written and reported on since Aylan Kurdi’s body washed ashore in Turkey. The little boy’s death has brought huge global media attention to the situation in Syria and the refugees trying to flee the country.

As a refugee advocate in the 1990s and 2000s I came to know something about the repression which has afflicted Syria since the early 1980s.  It should be remembered that the suffering of Syrians is not something that suddenly erupted a couple of years ago.  It is simply out in the open now, with tanks and rocket launchers instead of raids by the secret police.  The people who seek help have lived with fear of the state all their lives.  Now it has escalated to fear of becoming casualties of war, both from their own Government and with the incursion of ISIS.

We’ve rounded up a few articles for you to read if you’re still trying to come to grips with the situation from both the New Zealand and international perspective.

  1. Australia has committed to taking 12 000 refugees.
  2. West Coast-Tasman MP thinks his region should take 200 refugees.
  3. John Key has pledged to take 750 Syrian refugees.
  4. But there will be no plans to expand our presence in the middle east.
  5. Hon Michael Woodhouse says Syrian refugees will be vetted.
  6. Winston Peters has voiced his opinion on taking in refugees.
  7. Rachel Smalley cannot stand by and watch.

In my opinion, New Zealand’s decision to accept several hundred additional Syrian refugees over the next few years is driven by political pressure to be seen to be doing our part.  It masks the underlying tension – that our existing quota of 750 refugees accepted from overseas camps each year is well behind the commitment of many of our peer countries, on a per capita basis.

The Prime Minister, and the Minister of Immigration Hon. Michael Woodhouse, were not prepared to be drawn on whether the quota will be increased when it comes up for review next year – see reference to this in a recent post about the Ministerial dinner in July. As a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol, as a highly developed country and member of the OECD, New Zealand is not sharing equally in the global burden.  The usual argument for keeping the numbers down is that we need to be sure that those whom we bring here are properly resourced to settle here.  That is a fair consideration.  At the same time, though, those who have fled from persecution will not care if they can’t get everything they want straight away in their new home in Godzone.  The Government’s concern is actually about the impact on New Zealand society, not about giving succour to people in extreme situations.

The numbers we are talking about, and the possible increase to over 2000 per year which has been thrown around this week, are such that even if social disruption results from bringing refugees in, these will hardly bring us to our knees.  We hardly have to face the tens of thousands streaming into Germany and other European countries each day.  In a world in which we can fly to one of those European destinations in the space of a day, they are our neighbours.  Will they continue to look upon us as good neighbours if we continue to use our island isolation as a shield against the realities of world geopolitics?

Comment in this post is provided by Simon Laurent.