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Refugee campaigner ’elated’ with refugee quota boost

Double the Quota campaigner Murdoch Stephens is happy with the government's announcement on lifting the refugee quota. - Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The man who led a campaign for New Zealand to double the quota of refugees it accepts says he's delighted the total will be boosted.

The previous government lifted the quota from 750 a year to 1000 and yesterday Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced it will rise to 1500 annually from 2020.

In the meantime, she said work on improving refugee resettlement and support services would continue, including an upgrade of the Māngere Centre.

"I'm elated. It's been a really long campaign, it's been five years. [There's] been a couple of false moments, where Labour got the coalition government and we though okay it's in there. But then over the past couple of months it's been unclear."

He said he kept hope when Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters rubbished the refugee quota idea a couple of weeks ago.

"I could sense he was leaving the path open in the way he was talking and I have had good conversations with Iain Lees-Galloway on this," Mr Stephens said.

"Labour's been pretty solid the entire way through so I kind of felt the most optimistic person when all the op-eds came in saying they weren't going to do it."

Reports from 2015 showed New Zealand's refugee intake stood at five times fewer per capita than Australia, and ranked 87th in the world for total refugee resettlement per capita.

While New Zealand was not a world leader on refugee intake, Mr Stephens said he would not be campaigning for another increase in the intake of refugees for now.

"I wanted this to be a good faith thing when I was talking to the immigration minister when it was Michael Woodhouse. I assured him this wasn't something... I was personally going to keep doubling on."

There was room for improvement, however, New Zealand also had its own problems to sort out before opening up the space for more refugees, Mr Stephens said.

"We've got so many problems in New Zealand that as a New Zealander I know we need to make sure that these people settle in well - that they have the houses, the education - all of this to make sure they have a good start."

Instead, he said he was looking closer on other issues such as making the refugee quota population-adjusted and depoliticising the issue.

"So if the New Zealand population grows by one percent the quota grows, so we don't have to politicise it. In the last couple of weeks it has been politicised and no-one's really cared that much about refugees."

Now that the emergency quota for Syria has ended about 100 refugees from the country would be taken in, compared with 300 Syrian refugees last year, Mr Stephens said.

"We really need to make sure the quota focuses on the most vulnerable people and as the United Nations says those are the people in Africa and the Middle East now."


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