What’s wrong with the economic argument for refugees?

By Clair Caird

A cursory google search on motivations for countries to take in refugees in 2020 indicates a depressing trend in our values. A 2018 study by d’Albis, Boubtane and Coulibaly concerning the economic impact of refugees and migrants on 15 Western European countries over 30 years has been celebrated for the finding that people seeking asylum do provide economic benefits. This fact has been used in numerous articles to encourage more positive attitudes towards refugee resettlement.

The United Nations Refugee Agency website states how refugees who enter Canada can achieve successes such as ‘entering the middle class and starting businesses’. Other articles go on to discuss how accepting refugees is a “win-win” formula, pointing out how the sooner people enter the labour force, the sooner they become productive members of society with society reaping the rewards.

Here in Aotearoa New Zealand and around the world the way we frame refugee resettlement is increasingly in terms of what refugees can bring to our economy. We view refugees as a commodity which can contribute to our society. Is this really an appropriate way to frame an issue which is fundamentally about people’s lives?

Refugees and people seeking asylum are fleeing conflict and persecution. We should not be acting to help these people because of perceived economic benefits. We should help simply because they are real, living people, who deserve fundamental rights and the privileges we enjoy here in Aotearoa.

A focus on what people can bring to New Zealand, as opposed to focusing on the humanitarian goal of resettling people so that they are safe, is worrying. This messaging commodifies people and treats them as objects and items of economic value. We should help people and welcome them into our country because we have the resources to support them and because we are compassionate, not because they will bring economic benefits.

To some this sort of language may not seem like a big deal. As long as it convinces more people to accept people seeking asylum, surely it does not matter that we are focused on accepting them for economic reasons? However this economic-benefit focused language contributes towards the way we think about other people. It allows us to differentiate ourselves from people seeking asylum and view them as a group who we can use to advance ourselves. It allows us to ignore our own humanity and distance ourselves from the injustices in the world and those who are facing them.

This problem is not isolated to Aotearoa New Zealand. Refugee commodification is an increasing issue globally. Researcher Gerasimos Tsourapas has written about how the World Bank has endorsed migration deals with the goal of transforming the refugee crisis into an opportunity for development. An increase in these deals globally furthers the commodification of refugees and people seeking asylum. Presenting refugees as opportunities for development for the host countries is dangerous and shifts the focus from humanitarianism into how to better economies.

We have to shift the narrative around refugees and people seeking asylum back to a focus on who they are as people and why they are coming to our country. They are not a workforce to exploit. They are real people, fleeing persecution and conflict. It is our duty as members of the international community to welcome people seeking asylum into Aotearoa.

Government initiatives such as the Welcoming Communities program run by Immigration New Zealand are an appreciated shift in thinking towards a more human focus. This program works on making communities more welcoming to everyone, including former refugees. Welcoming Communities is part of an international network, with similar programs around Australia, Canada, and Europe.

More programs like this which focus on former refugees and people seeking asylum as human beings can help ensure that we push back against the commodification of refugees and focus on what really matters. We must concentrate on empathy and our connections as people, instead of focusing on the economic value of these human lives. The focus of our programs for refugees and people seeking asylum in Aotearoa New Zealand must centre on the value of human life.

How far does our humanity extend?

How far does our humanity extend?

By Rebecca Farquhar

Closing our borders saved lives. Yet for hundreds of refugees, it also put them in limbo.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has suspended its Refugee Quota Programme as part of its efforts to mitigate the threat of Covid-19. With more than 150 border closures globally, the prospects of those seeking asylum in New Zealand have been, and remain, uncertain.

From 1 July 2020, the Government increased the quota for the annual intake of refugees to 1,500 per financial year (an increase from 1,000). The effects of Covid-19 have rendered the Government unable to meet this target. Of this figure, only 795 refugees arrived in New Zealand before the closure of the country’s borders to international travellers in March. This has left 205 refugees in a state of suspension in overseas asylum countries. Despite the extension to the quota programme, there has been no decision as to when the intake programme will resume.

The dangers of straying from the responsibility of the refugee intake programme are many and worrying. Rachel O’Connor, general migration manager for Red Cross New Zealand, describes the situation in which pending refugees find themselves: “Without actually having set foot on New Zealand soil those people are almost Kiwis. They no longer have a country of their own … They are just so close, but yet so far away from being able to realise that.” The stresses of Covid-19 have also exacerbated an already protracted waiting period. Under normal circumstances, it can take up to two years to be granted refuge in New Zealand.

This drawn-out and dire ‘waiting game’ puts the lives of refugees at risk. Delay can mean death, being drawn into violent conflicts or persecution. With each delay comes an increase in the number of those seeking sanctuary in countries such as New Zealand, and an associated increase in risk.

Now that community transmission of the virus has been eliminated, the Red Cross is urging for the restart of the refugee quota programme on humanitarian grounds. Further, it wants to see the Government play catch-up by increasing New Zealand’s refugee quota when the programme restarts. Indeed, while relaunching the programme at the present time may be untenable and even dangerous, there are steps which New Zealand should take in order to remain firm to its commitments to refugees and to ensure that this limbo is just that: temporary.

The first and most important step for ensuring the safety of refugees is to increase the programme quota. A temporary increase alone would have innumerable benefits. Refugees are particularly vulnerable to the effects of Covid-19 as they live in tightly-confined camps and communities which make social distancing an impossibility. The dangers of such living conditions have presented themselves in the Maldives, where the virus has pervaded migrant workers’ communities.

Secondly, it is the Government’s responsibility to ensure that those refugees who have been granted refugee status in New Zealand have safe and feasible means of reaching the country. One challenge of restarting the programme in the time of Coronavirus is the willingness and capability of the country of origin to allow refugees to leave the country. Travel restrictions mean that some countries may not permit internal travel or that neighbouring states may not allow refugees to cross their borders. While this is a significant hurdle, it is not impossible to overcome. Indeed, the UNHCR and IOM can arrange visas to exit origin countries, as well as departures and flights. Moreover, Immigration New Zealand is currently working on the establishment of necessary health controls and ensuring that travel routes are available to facilitate refugee movements.

Finally, thorough health checks and protective measures are essential to allow the safe arrival and integration of refugees. However, as O’Connor points out, such measures are already in place: “[Refugees] have health checks offshore and onshore. They have six weeks at the Māngere Resettlement Centre, which is 10 minutes down the road from the airport and built to quarantine people, if required.”

New Zealand is capable of staying true to the responsibilities of the refugee intake programme. In this time of global disaster, the concern with welcoming international travellers into our borders is valid. However, the dire circumstances of refugees waiting for asylum outweighs these concerns, especially in light of New Zealand’s ability to ensure their safe integration. It is in such times of need that the strength and leadership of New Zealand shines, and it is now more than ever that refugees are relying on these qualities.

Refugees and People Seeking Asylum under COVID-19

Refugees and People Seeking Asylum under COVID-19

By Clair Caird

Worldwide, three out of four countries have introduced complete or partial closures of their borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This has resulted in dire consequences for the many people faced with the decision where staying in one country and crossing an international border is a matter of life and death.

COVID-19 may have taken over our lives but the circumstances that cause people to flee their homes have not ceased. Paul Spiegel, director of the Center for Humanitarian Health at Johns Hopkins University in the United States has recommended that where borders are closed, they must remain open for those that seek asylum. 

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees released a briefing highlighting the importance of ensuring access to the territory for those persons in need of international protection in the context of COVID-19. It stated that whilst states are able to put in place border measures to ensure health, such as placing individuals in quarantine, these measures may not result in the denial of effective opportunity to seek asylum. 

Whilst a blanket closing of the borders to non-nationals is not discriminatory in the sense that it is singling out those seeking asylum, these public health measures have far-reaching consequences for those seeking protection. A related issue of rising concern is the spread of COVID-19 in refugee camps globally. Countries around the world are closing their borders. 

Who is here for the 25 million people fleeing persecution and conflict? 

Aotearoa is doing comparatively well in our efforts to contain COVID-19. As we are moving on with level 2 and life appears to shift almost towards normality, it is time to turn our attention to those in need. When the world is facing a crisis of this magnitude we must protect those who are the most vulnerable. 

New Zealand is a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and so it is crucial we uphold our international obligations. 

Aside from considering what steps we can take at our borders to fulfil these obligations, we must also consider those who are already here and waiting on their claims to be processed. According to Immigration New Zealand, our Refugee Status Unit is closed until further notice. All interviews scheduled have been cancelled and the processing of documents has been placed on hold. For those who are fighting to gain refugee status, it is a very difficult time. Some have waited a long time for the chance to be heard, only for these life-altering interviews to be postponed. 

There have been calls to resume these processes through online mechanisms, although there are concerns that this may impede people’s opportunities to argue their case due to the impersonal nature of online interviews. 

We have all faced new stresses under COVID-19. People who are living here and those who are currently seeking asylum will have faced further stress due to their lack of access to support networks. In our new fragile economy, many will have increased difficulty accessing employment, leading to financial insecurity. This is especially true for those seeking asylum, many of whom do not qualify for work visas. 

For quota refugees efforts have also been suspended. The 135 refugees currently in the Māngere Refugee Resettlement centre have had their settlement plans greatly affected by lockdown. The usually six-week-long programme has been extended. For those who have already been living in a state of uncertainty for many years, this was yet another complication. 

Amnesty International strongly emphasises the need for those in New Zealand, whether they are quota refugees or people seeking asylum, to have access to goods and services which consider their language, mental health, religious, and cultural needs. Support from communities is critical in these troubled times. Those in the Māngere centre were given support including mental health, further educational support for children, and a recreation programme. This much-needed support would surely be appreciated for those seeking asylum. 

In this new COVID-19 era it is of the utmost importance that Aotearoa New Zealand does not forsake its obligations to those who are most vulnerable and most in need. Understandingly, opening the border for those seeking asylum is a complex issue. In the meantime, the government must focus on re-opening the Refugee Status Unit as soon as practicable. Resuming with interviews for those people seeking asylum is a vital and necessary task. In trying times we must help others.


Take action: Studylink

You can find email addresses for relevant MPs at this link: https://www.parliament.nz/en/mps-and-electorates/members-of-parliament/

Kia ora (Name of MP),

My name is _______ and I am a resident of ______. I am writing to you express my concern about the current exclusion of certain refugees from Studylink funding.

Convention Refugees  or Spontaneous Refugees are individuals who have been recognised as having refugee status by the New Zealand Government. Current Government policy means that once a claimant has been granted refugee status they must then apply for residency. This is distinct from individuals who arrive under the Quota programme who are automatically granted residency.

Under the Student Allowance Regulations 1998 (Regulation 12, 1, a, iv) to receive Studylink a person must have refugee status, which Convention Refugees do have, but must also be entitled under the Immigration Act 2009 to “reside indefinitely” in New Zealand. As Convention Refugees are not automatically granted residence, a process which can take two years to complete, they are being excluded from accessing affordable education. The result of this policy is that Quota Refugees are entitled to Studylink and Convention Refugees are not. This effectively creates a second class of Refugees in Aotearoa and a disparity of treatment when both groups have equally been recognised as having refugee status.

This is fundamentally unjust and is in conflict with principles of natural justice and fairness, somethings New Zealanders pride themselves on. Change is required. We must see the interpretation of “reside indefinitely” changed to include individuals who have refugee or protected person status.

Secondly, a spontaneous refugee who bring his children here under a Dependent Child Resident Visa is denied because they are told they have not ‘sponsored them’ the child. However, this definition does include extended family of a refugee. In practice this means that extended family of a spontaneous refugee who are sponsored by that refugee to live in NZ can access Studylink but children whose entitlement to live in New Zealand comes from a Dependent Child Resident Visa do not have access to this. Immigration New Zealand’s website states: “If your children are granted residence, they can live and study in New Zealand, and if they’re old enough, work too.” However, this is not being honoured in practice. The interpretation  of ‘sponsor’ under Regulation 12, 1, a, iv of the Student Allowance Regulations 1998 must include the direct relatives of all refugees and protected persons, including children who arrive in New Zealand on dependent child visas.

We urge you to advocate for a fairer and more equitable education system for all refugees and protected persons in Aotearoa.

Ngā mihi,

(Your name)

Seeking Asylum is a Human Right, not a Privilege

Seeking Asylum is a Human Right, not a Privilege

By Keelie Andrews-McAulay

UNHCR figures show that at the end of 2018 there were around 3.5 million people worldwide waiting to hear if their asylum claim was successful. 3.5 million people waiting to hear if they can live in a safe and peaceful environment without the daily fear of being harmed.  

A person seeking asylum is an individual who has fled their country and is seeking protection in another country. This is often due to fears of persecution for several reasons including race, religion, sexuality or nationality.  They are considered an asylum seeker whilst they wait to hear if their claim has been accepted. Once accepted by that country, they will be considered a refugee. 

Of the 300 asylum claims made in New Zealand, the Human Rights Commission found 15% are made at the border. This is generally from people fleeing their countries and seeking asylum as soon as they enter. Often in these cases, false documentation is used to escape their situations. Over half of those who seek asylum in New Zealand do so after living in the country for 180 days or more. In these types of cases, the person enters the community and realises it is much safer for them there than returning to their country. They may realise that what they feared being persecuted from in their home country, can be celebrated and enjoyed in New Zealand. 

This is not only an important legal right, but also a fundamental human right to seek asylum for any person experiencing persecution. This comes from numerous sources such as Article 31 of the 1951 Refugee Convention and Article 14 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 14 states that “everyone has the right to seek asylum and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” This universal code, applicable to everyone across the globe, is stating it is your right to be free from persecution and harm. 

It is often thought that those seeking asylum are not as worthy of protection as quota refugees. Quota refugees are those who have been recognised as a refugee by UNHCR and are waiting for placement under a countries annual refugee quota. Many claim that people seeking asylum are queue jumping over quota refugees, stealing from someone who has been waiting for that spot. This is not the case. There is no queue. They are all people who have fled the harmful situations in the countries to ensure their safety. 

UNHCR tries to prioritise the refugees who are in the most vulnerable situations and in desperate need of resettlement. However, even in these circumstances resettling can be a long process. In most cases, the system works like a hospital triage system, prioritising those most in danger. There is no queue to jump. Many of those who claim asylum are unable to get to a UNHCR area to be put in the resettlement program in the first place. The only means they have to access a safe environment is by seeking asylum.

The 1951 Refugee Convention states there is no difference between those who claim asylum and those who are resettled in New Zealand under the refugee quota program. Yet quota refugees are eligible for settlement services and assistance whilst those that are asylum are given no help in resettlement. Arriving in New Zealand can be a daunting task. It can be especially difficult if no help is given during settlement in the community. This makes it seem as though quota refugees are more worthy than those who have sought asylum, as they are eligible for these services whilst those who have sought asylum are not. Pair this on top of the “queue jumper” stereotypes, it appears there are a lot of negative thoughts about asylum seekers. Yet they come from the same background and situations as quota refugees, just having different means of arrival. This is often due to the fact they are unable to get declared as a refugee before leaving or realise that they are much safer in the country they have claimed asylum.

Those who seek asylum do so because they have no other means of being able to protect themselves, and their families, from persecution in their countries of origin. They face serious and often deadly threats, living in constant fear of being harmed due to factors such as gender, sexuality, and political views. Seeking asylum is an important human right, and definitely not a privilege. 


The Threat of Securitisation

The Threat of Securitisation

By Akanksha Munshi-Kurian

Aspirations for a close-knit international community and a globalised, multilateral order have been under siege for some time now. Britain formally exited the European Union in a breath-takingly impulsive display of protectionism in 2017; the US continues to tighten its stances on immigration and excessively militarise its borders; Australia spent more than $4 billion on ‘border protection’ policies in 2018; and India formally closed its borders to Muslim refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh last year. Sitting back and waiting for the populist storm to pass is not, evidently, a viable solution.

“Securitisation” refers to the funnelling of certain political discourses into the realm of security. Immigrants and asylum seekers are portrayed as an immediate threat to state security, allowing political leaders to draw normative distinctions of themselves as defenders of their people’s safety, sovereignty, and identity, and ethnic minority immigrants as “the other”. Counterterrorist policy and immigration policy have become increasingly intertwined across the West, and the perceived ‘threat’ of ‘the other’ has catalysed a spread of hate politics and exclusionary political systems. 

As the world’s richest democracies seal their borders and expand their walls, the crushing effects of protectionism on asylum seekers are becoming all the more apparent. 

Towards the end of last year, the US Supreme Court permitted the government to enact statutory bans on the majority of Central Americans seeking asylum in the US. A month earlier, the Trump administration confirmed that they would start detaining asylum-seeking families indefinitely until their cases were decided, despite expert warnings that children could be psychologically damaged through detention and that the policy would circumvent due process obligations.

Across the border in Canada the same year, the government made an amendment to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act under urgency, deeming refugees ineligible to make a claim if they had already applied in the US, UK, Australia or New Zealand. This was passed to prevent refugees “sort of shopping around and making applications in multiple countries” (a quote from Canada’s Minister of Border Security), perpetuating a falsehood that refugees are actively taking advantage of an excessively free-handed asylum system. 

Closer to home, the Australian onshore immigration detention system was last year declared to be “more and more like prison” and more inhumane than any other similar operation in the West by the Human Rights Commission.

Such actions show a fast backtracking of the West from their international legal obligations. The 1951 Refugee Convention, to which 146 countries are signatories, defines a refugee as anyone who flees their country due to a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” The convention prohibits governments from sending those seeking asylum back to where they might face danger and bars any form of penalty or punishment against them.

The backtracking from such explicit commitments is normalised through stigmatising rhetoric – in which asylum seekers are often referred to as “shoppers” or “illegal immigrants” by politicians — which eschew the reasons for their asylum in favour of narratives brushed with bigotry and misinformation. Growing xenophobia normalises the hardships of those who have no option but to escape their homelands.

Such labelling legitimises securitisation and encourages policies that obstruct thousands of asylum seekers’ access to fundamental rights and to safety. They also, worryingly, convey populist agendas that adopt Eurocentric national identities, influencing exclusionary immigration politics.

Furthermore, security strategies targeting asylum seekers and refugees – for instance, the discriminatory use of policing – have not only been found to have no effect on public safety but often divert attention away from genuine local social issues. They thus neither provide security for the country nor protect refugees: to the contrary, they foster societal fissures and deepen existing inequalities. 

The international trend of growing securitisation and the extrication of states from their multilateral responsibilities are having devastating consequences for those most vulnerable: the people who have been forced to leave their homes due to circumstances outside of their control. And with more than 70 million displaced people worldwide – a human rights crisis deemed ‘unprecedented’ by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees – the need for inclusive and empathetic policies is all the more pressing. 

Dismantling the misplaced panic and fear around taking in asylum seekers, and centring the focus on those experiences of displaced peoples who are seeking safety instead, is imperative for achieving a safer world. No country can exempt itself from the global table: this crisis is not something that one state can solve alone


The difference between a quota refugee, a person seeking asylum, and convention refugee

The difference between a quota refugee, a person seeking asylum, and convention refugee

By Amy Christian

Under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”. Unfortunately, not everyone who seeks to exercise this right in New Zealand is treated equally. “Amir” and “Yara” have both fled their homes to protect themselves. But despite their shared circumstances, New Zealand has categorised them differently based on their method of arrival. Amir is a quota refugee. Yara is a person seeking asylum. Amir will be given adequate help in settling into our community. Yara will not.

Amir arrives in New Zealand under the governments’ Refugee Quota Programme. He spends his first six weeks in the Mangere Resettlement Centre. This centre gives him the foundational tools he needs to make the most of New Zealand. The centre provides him with access to physical and mental health services, settlement support, and English language classes.
After six weeks, Amir moves to his new community where he is provided with social housing. Permanent residency is given automatically, so he has full access to social security benefits and may begin working immediately. A number of government and non-profit organisations are able to provide him with employment opportunities. He receives ongoing settlement support that will continue for at least six months.

To put it simply: Amir, like all other quota refugees, is taken care of. They have comprehensive rights and are provided substantial support while establishing their new home.

Yara is not part of the Refugee Quota Programme. She arrives on her own and claims asylum at the border. Because of this, she will have a drastically different experience. Seeking asylum is her basic human right, but our government offers Yara almost negligible support. From the very start, she must rely on herself and what few (and already stretched) non-profit organisations are available.

Yara is faced with two immediate problems. Where is she going to live? How is she going to pay for it? Unlike Amir, Yara is responsible for her own housing and is not entitled to work immediately. She may only apply for a work visa after her first immigration interview, which may take a few months.

Because Yara is classified as an asylum seeker, she is not given adequate help finding her feet. There is no introduction to New Zealand. No ongoing case management. And very little settlement support. Much of the help that is available to her needs to be sought out before it can be used. Financially, she is only entitled to the emergency benefit. She cannot receive accommodation supplements. The government leaves her to shoulder the burden of finding affordable housing and employment alone.

Like Amir, Yara speaks very little English. Unlike Amir, she is responsible for her own education. If she is lucky there will be spaces available at an English language course run through a non-profit organisation. If not, then she must pay for it herself or go without. Settling into a new community becomes exponentially harder when you do not speak your new neighbours’ language. It leads to fewer social ties, less job opportunities, and hinders a person’s ability to enjoy the limited support that is open to them.

Of the 300 people yearly who seek asylum in New Zealand, roughly 100 will have their applications approved. This makes them convention refugees. Their rights and opportunities improve but they are still not equal to quota refugees. Let us assume Yara’s application is accepted.

She immediately applies for permanent residency because it was not automatically granted. Until it is approved, Yara retains the same limited rights she had as an asylum claimant. After her application is approved, she no longer needs a work visa and she has access to full social security benefits. This makes life easier. Going forward she has the same right to live in New Zealand as quota refugees.

However, because Yara is a convention refugee she will not gain access to the opportunities provided to a quota refugee. At no stage is she provided with social housing or further settlement support. She does not gain access to the employment opportunities given to quota refugees. There are some English courses for adult convention refugees, but availability issues mean most people in Yara’s situation remain responsible for their own language education.

People in need of asylum are some of Earth’s most vulnerable citizens. New Zealand’s indifference towards people seeking asylum and convention refugees is blatantly unjust. The opportunities provided to quota refugees should be standard for all people who arrive seeking safety. They fled the same places. Faced the same persecutions. Saw the same horrors. The difference is in the policy, not the people. New Zealand can do better.

Te Ao Māori Perspectives on Seeking Asylum

Te Ao Māori Perspectives on Seeking Asylum

By Clair Caird

Like other settler colonial societies, Aotearoa New Zealand has excluded indigenous perspectives on immigration. Despite being treaty partners, Māori have almost no opportunity to influence immigration decisions. One area which could benefit from perspectives from te ao Māori is the process of seeking asylum.

A 2015 study conducted by Catherine Lane West-Newman concerning Māori opinions on people seeking asylum, identified a sense of kinship with those seeking asylum due to a shared history of deprivation and suffering. Many participants noted that a wider adoption of manaakitanga by non-Māori could lead to a climate of welcome and acceptance. This would contrast with the current popular image of people seeking asylum as a dangerous and risky group. Values such as empathy and communal responsibility, central to te ao Māori, could greatly enhance our current system. The study also noted that there were more calls for greater Māori involvement in the process and the need to educate new arrivals in Māori customs and beliefs.

Faisal Al-Asaad and Dr Arama Rata discuss the relationship of Māori with settlers of colour including former refugees in their 2019 article ‘​Whakawhanaungatanga as a Māori Approach to Indigenous–Settler of Colour Relationship Building’.​Interviews with six Māori leaders identified whakawhanaungatanga, defined as the process of establishing relationships, as providing a framework for intercultural interactions. Whanaungatanga is a form of kinship forged, Rata and Al-Asaad argue, through shared experiences such as white supremacy, and is a special social solidarity created by a shared understanding of persecution. One leader who worked with former refugees spoke of the family-like relationships formed through similar experiences. Additionally, many Māori have a deep understanding of displacement within their own country, as experienced in Aotearoa under colonisation.

Tahu Kukutai and Dr Arama Rata discuss Māori perspectives on immigration in their chapter ‘From mainstream to manaaki: Indigenising our approach to immigration’​in the 2017 book Fair Borders.​Māori have experienced demographic swamping through the dominating and disempowering process of colonisation, and so there is a justifiable distrust of immigration. Colonisation and immigration saw the alienation of land from Māori, the toppling of Māori tino rangatiratanga and the replacement of tikanga with the English common law.

Kukutai and Rata discuss how immigration policy informed by te ao Māori would be long term and intergenerational and could incorporate values such as manaakitanga. Manaakitanga involves ideas around showing and receiving care, respect, kindness, and hospitality. The term is often used when referring to the hosting responsibilities of mana whenua to visitors. It asks of our immigration system how we can be good hosts and is fundamentally about building relationships and bringing people together. A system based on manaakitanga would help reunify families and would place care and respect at the centre of Aotearoa’s approach to asylum seekers. A tika based system would consider what is right, just, fair, or proper. There is a rising trend of xenophobia and far right nationalism globally

against immigration, so it is important to have values such as manaakitanga and tika which enrich our immigration policy.

The authors pointed to our ‘embarrassingly small’ refugee quota in comparison to the major global refugee crisis as an example of something that would not be tolerated under a system of manaakitanga and tika, where ‘care and respect are central’. Our system for aiding refugees and people that seek asylum would need to be balanced with the responsibilities owed to existing groups within Aotearoa, including Māori, and the need to protect the environment.

Manaakitanga goes both ways. Immigrants, including people seeking asylum, need to show reciprocal respect and care for Māori. For those entering Aotearoa New Zealand through asylum or other immigratory means, there needs to be recognition that they are coming into a country that is founded on a treaty partnership. There would need to be a recognition of mana whenua. These steps would only be a small form of recognition towards the tino rangatiratanga promised in te Tiriti but are a good starting point.

One possible way of achieving recognition for mana whenua is through programs such as the Tikanga Project, conducted in 2017-2018. This project was run by the Red Cross, the Multicultural Language and Support Services, the Changemakers Refugee Forum and three local Pōneke iwi. The project was a year-long tikanga Māori learning project focused on establishing manaakitanga and an understanding of colonisation.

Perspectives from te ao Māori on seeking asylum have been ignored for too long. Including Māori in immigration decisions and incorporating values from te ao Māori such as manaakitanga and tika in our treatment of people seeking asylum would be a step towards a more fair, diverse, and inclusive Aotearoa.

A kōrero with Wellington Mayor Justin Lester

Thursday the 15th of August marked a special day for us at the Wellington Community Justice Project and Asylum Seekers Equality Project, as we had the pleasure of engaging in kōrero with Wellington Mayor Justin Lester on his ‘Welcome Home’ policy initiative.

This initiative – which aims to improve access to services for former refugees – is important as it recognises that refugee policy is not only a global and national issue, but one of local importance too. This is particularly significant as to ensure those seeking asylum have equal access to services, we need action at all levels of Government.

In support of this, Mayor Lester spoke of New Zealand’s deep roots of egalitarianism. New Zealand has always been exemplified as a place which encourages opportunity based on merits, regardless of the colour of your skin, religion or place in the social hierarchy, believing this should extend to those seeking asylum. This was particularly important in regards to shaping this initiative, as it supports the notion that those seeking asylum have a rich gift to bring us.  

Thus, in order to “level the playing field”, Mayor Lester acknowledged his desire for the ‘Welcome Home’ initiative to mitigate difficulties that face those seeking asylum. Particularly, in regards to lack of local experience and establishing their place in the community. To address this is fundamental, as empowering those most vulnerable, gives them the confidence to develop their skills and go back into the community. Ultimately, a win-win. 

In the past, the Wellington Region has welcomed a large quantity of refugees and worked alongside many services including the Red Cross and Changemakers, to ensure those seeking asylum have access to information in their language and to facilitate access to the community. 

This kōrero has left us optimistic that local councils including Wellington City Council are taking steps to improve equality in community support through these initiatives. Kia ora to Mayor Lester for taking the time to share your initiative and engage with us on issues as paramount as this. We hope the mahi behind this policy leads to its bipartisan support and its eventual fruition. 

To find out more information on groups and services advocating for the equality of rights, follow our Facebook page.

What Can New Zealand Do To Help Climate Change Asylum Seekers?

Under New Zealand’s treaty obligations, we are legally able to take asylum seekers based on a “well founded fear” of persecution as defined in the 1951 Refugee Convention. Although this is a statement that is broad, it currently does not allow refugees who are fleeing their countries due to climate change the ability to seek asylum for that reason. In New Zealand, our immigration policy is committed to helping our “neighbours”; that being Pacific Islander nations. However, if that is true, we should start advocating for change beginning with broadening the definition of refugee to help these countries which will be detrimentally affected by climate change. This has been introduced to Cabinet by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT); however more change is still necessary.

Pacific climate change is becoming more of a substantive issue as climate change worsens worldwide, several of our neighbouring island nations, such as Kiribati are becoming the most in danger to lose their land in only a few years due to rising sea levels. This is an issue that New Zealand should become more involved in, especially if we want to maintain our policy of helping our neighbours. Pacific Island countries are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, mostly due to the rising sea levels and the fact that the countries are poorly resourced to accomodate for the issue. This means that developed nations such as New Zealand should start implementing change to mitigate these issues as much as possible. 

Picture: The nation of Kiribati, one of the Pacific Islands which is in danger of losing land to rising sea levels and climate change. 

This can begin with governmental initiatives, including what MFAT has introduced as “championing the progressive development of international law to protect Pacific Islands Countries’” (MFAT, 2018). As aforementioned, there is no inclusion of climate change in the international law for asylum seekers or in the definition of “well founded fear”, nor is it covered by any other major international human rights instruments. While some international initiatives briefly consider the impact of climate change on nations, there is nothing substantive that offers people the right to seek asylum due to the effect of climate change on their countries. New Zealand will need to advocate for progressive change to these laws, using their position as a signatory of the Paris Climate Agreement and also as a past temporary member of the United Nations Security Change to implement change. 

There are other ways that New Zealand could mitigate these issues, including strengthening international language and frameworks through multilateral action (MFAT, 2018). The current Platform on Disaster Displacement is a platform that is related to asylum seekers fleeing the effects of Climate Change. If New Zealand was to engage with the platform it could generate opportunities for us to access expertise and advocate on behalf of our Pacfic Island neighbours (MFAT, 2018). 

However, a sufficient commitment from New Zealand to take action on climate change and the issue regarding seeking asylum will need long term action by our government. So far, there is nothing that New Zealand has integrated into our foreign policy to help climate change refugees, however several suggestions have been made to our Cabinet by MFAT. It will be interesting to see how New Zealand adopts these supposed changes that have been offered to them, and whether climate change and those seeking asylum from it will be recognised internationally.


New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. 

New Zealand Cabinet Environment Energy and Climate Change Committee.

Walters, Lauren. (April 25, 2019). New Plan Gives Pacific People Chance to Stay Home. Newsroom. Retrieved from https://www.newsroom.co.nz/2019/04/25/549041/groundbreaking-project-gives-pacific-people-chance-to-stay-in-their-homeland