Speech for World Refugee Day

Wednesday, June 17, 2015 - 13:11

Thank you, Tony. I am very pleased to be here to mark World Refugee Day, being officially held on Saturday.  I want to begin by thanking the New Zealand Red Cross and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for co-hosting this lunch. I want to also acknowledge the other Members of Parliament here today, the UNHCR Regional Representative, Thomas Albrecht, former refugees and other distinguished guests.

The global landscape is constantly changing. As the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, observed recently 86 per cent of the world’s refugees now live in the developing world, compared to just 70 per cent only a decade ago. As a good international citizen, New Zealand takes our responsibilities to provide protection to refugees extremely seriously and have played our part in reacting to emergency crises such as that in Syria. We responded to a call from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and announced last year that New Zealand would resettle up to 100 Syrian refugees.

Although global attention is quite rightly focused on the plight of refugees in the world’s war zones and areas of conflict, today is also an apt occasion to highlight the amazing achievements and resilience of so many refugees who manage to overcome adversity. The two former refugees you will be hearing from after me are excellent examples of people who have resettled in New Zealand and triumphed against the odds to make a success of their new lives here and become self-sufficient. Their stories reinforce the UNHCR’s campaign message that refugees are ordinary people who are living through extraordinary circumstances.

This Government is strongly committed to improving the resettlement outcomes of refugees. In December 2012, we launched the New Zealand Refugee Resettlement Strategy which identifies five key outcomes for the successful settlement of refugees and there is a strong dependency between them. And last week, while in Geneva for the International Labour Organisation Conference, where I met with UN High Commissioner Gutierrez and International Organisation for Migration Director General Bill Swing, who both had a very high regard for New Zealand and full praise for our refugee resettlement programme.

Former refugees themselves have identified self-sufficiency and employment as important for them both in terms of supporting their family and in making connections to the community.  It was clear when the Strategy was launched that refugees resettled in New Zealand were not being given sufficient opportunities to maximise the contribution they could make to their new life in New Zealand.

That’s why the Strategy reflects the importance the Government places on helping refugees adapt to life in New Zealand as quickly as possible and supporting them to achieve better settlement outcomes.  The success of the Strategy is not possible without the support and collaboration of government agencies, non-governmental organisations, service providers and refugee communities – many of whom are here today.  So I would like to thank you for your ongoing support of the Strategy. 

It’s early days yet but I’m confident that the changes implemented through the Strategy including the mix of services and changes to English language provision provided to Quota refugees will make a noticeable difference. Improved offshore orientation that tells refugees about life in New Zealand and the resettlement challenges they will face is just the start of the process. The stronger focus on preparing working-age refugees for work while they are at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre and the Pathways to Employment programme delivered by the New Zealand Red Cross are important pieces in the jigsaw. The importance of securing paid employment for refugees cannot be overstated – it gives them self-respect as well as leading to more opportunities for interaction and involvement with the community. But of course we also have to look to the future and make sure that tomorrow’s workers are prepared as possible for the workplace. Hence the focus on increasing the educational achievement of refugee school leavers and aligning English language classes more to the needs of refugees. There’s no doubt that better English language skills will help refugees to contribute to and settle better in their communities and improve their employment prospects.

The Government is spending an increasing amount of effort and resources in ensuring that the refugees we resettle are given the best possible start to their new life in New Zealand. The investment of $21 million to rebuild the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre recognises the importance of settlement support as part of our shared responsibility to support the resettlement of refugees. I’m glad to see that the work is on schedule to be completed by the second half of next year.

I was also pleased to announce increased funding for refugee services in last year’s Budget, with an additional $5.6 million over four years to provide improvements to resettlement planning and support in the settlement regions.

As you know the Government agreed to the current three-year Refugee Quota Programme in June 2013 and a decision will be made on the next three-year programme early next year after considering all relevant factors. We will look at all aspects of the quota including the numbers, but I do believe some of the criticism about the current numbers has been misplaced.  New Zealand is one of only around 26 countries which resettles refugees referred by the UNHCR and we take our international humanitarian responsibilities extremely seriously. Some of our critics forget that an additional 300 people are approved residence each year under the Refugee Family Support Category and a number of asylum seekers’ claims are also approved each year.  Since World War Two, New Zealand has accepted over 35,000 refugees.  When you consider these refugees, their dependants, their families and their extended families - a pretty significant proportion of New Zealanders now has a refugee heritage.

I acknowledge the invaluable work that many of you here are doing in the humanitarian space and to support refugee settlement.  I’m very aware of the very strong feelings many of you here today have about the size of the refugee quota. 

As I’ve said the next three-year Quota programme will be considered by Cabinet early next year.  This year our focus in on the important work going on to improve the outcomes of refugees who are resettled in New Zealand to provide some context about the situation. The Prime Minister and I think that it is extremely important to get the settings right for refugees who are resettled in New Zealand.

There has been widespread praise for the way in which New Zealand provides a six week reception programme at Māngere and the work that you all do along with your continued support and engagement in the implementation of the New Zealand Refugee Resettlement Strategy is vital to improve the settlement outcomes for refugees.  We recognise that more can still be done but we firmly believe that progress is being made and that we’re on the right track. 

Thank you.