CABINET UNDER PRESSURE TODAY TO TAKE SYRIAN REFUGEES
By Richard Harman (author)
Cabinet will discuss the Syrian refugee crisis today but it is by no means clear whether New Zealand will take any or if they do how many they might take.
There are a host of practical difficulties in the way of a quick decision on a large number being accepted.
Where to house them as they undergo orientation is a major difficulty.
The country’s Refugee Centre at Mangere is currently undergoing a $15.9 million refurbishment – ironically one of the aims that project is to provide for a short sharp sudden increases in intakes such as being proposed for Syria.
That project is not expected to be completed till the end of the year.
There is also understood to be a shortage of Syrian interpreters in New Zealand.
There was also confusion over the weekend after UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokesperson Arianne Rummery told TV3’s "The Nation" that New Zealand had agreed to take an extra 100 Syrian refugees.
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister has denied this and it is thought Ms Rummery may have been confused with the decision to admit 100 Syrians within the existing refugee quota last year.
Those Syrian refugees have been resettled in Wellington.
But while the Government copes with the practical challenges presented by taking in a sudden influx of refugees the pressure on it – particularly from non-governmental organisations and the media --- is intensifying.
One backbench MP said the picture of the drowned child had changed everything and was making it difficult for the Government to not accept some refugees.
Another Government MP said that though there had been some constituents keen to take more, others were concerned about the cost implications of increasing the number of refugees.
MPs were prepared to speculate that the Government might take up to 200.
There will now also be an unwelcome comparison with Australia on the matter.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott sent his Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to Geneva last night to talk to the United Nation’s Human Rights Commissioner and ask what more Australia could do.
Last night New Zealand officials seemed to be still scrambling to try and get a fix on the situation.
The response from the key Government is in contrast to that of the Shipley Government in 1999 which ended up taking 800 refugees from Kosovo as a special quota.
The Kosovars arrived in small batches and were settled in Housing New Zealand properties that had been emptied in readiness for sale.
But the traumatic experiences many had had during the Yugoslav wars saw many having to be treated for mental illness and physical health problems as well as having to learn English and how to cope with what for many was an alien society.
The Government’s problem though is that the complexities of refugee resettlement are now lost in a media-driven frenzy about the Syrian refugees.
Today’s Cabinet will have little choice but to say yes.