Aotearoa New Zealand is a nation of migrant peoples. From the arrival of the first Māori, the land has supported us all. Our families came for many reasons – many in search of safety and seeking the opportunities of a better life. This is the point of personal connection with refugees.
An International ResponsibilityThe world is facing an unprecedented refugee crisis. In 2014 almost 60 million people were officially recognised as refugees. The combination of intensified conflicts and the failure to resolve long term conflicts have contributed to the escalation in numbers and level of suffering experienced by many of them. However, it should be noted that it was only when desperate refugees seeking a better life or for that manner any life at all arrived in large numbers in Europe that the magnitude of their situation hit home to the global community.
Much of the attention has focused on those seeking refuge in Europe but many more are in countries of first refuge. Christian World Service works with local groups in Lebanon, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, South Sudan, Sudan, Nicaragua and Pakistan for example. In every situation, our partners report on the strain on their resources and the deteriorating living conditions of many. For example in Lebanon, 70% of Syrian refugees live below the poverty line. Most cannot work legally and increasing numbers are falling deeper into debt. Our partner the Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees has stretched resources to help families that have been refugees for 60 years from Palestine, 10 years from Iraq and five years from Syria. The human suffering is immense as their uncertainty is compounded by poverty and trauma.
The world cannot afford to have so many people living without a real future. The international community is funding UN agencies trying to meet the needs of Syrians on only 40% of the budget they have requested. For others in African countries it is much worse. Dadaab camp in Kenya has been open for almost 25 years and is home to nearly half a million people. Residents are effectively condemned to a lifetime of dependency with few opportunities to leave or support themselves. It is unjust and has not been a viable solution for a long time.
Much more could be said about this complex crisis and the urgent need for new strategies to respond. Increasing the resettlement quota in Aotearoa New Zealand will help some of these people whose human rights and dignity are being ignored. New Zealand needs to step up to the challenge facing our world today. Membership of the Security Council gives the government access to the most up-to-date information on the situation and comes with the responsibility to uphold the human rights of all. It is only fair that more are resettled here to share some of the load.
A Responsibility of Faith CommunitiesChurches and their agencies are playing a leading role in offering shelter and sanctuary to refugees. As part of ACT Alliance (Action by Churches Together) they are assisting in many countries and are involved in discussions with UN agencies on the role of faith based agencies. Providing welcome to the stranger, refuge to those seeking shelter and the necessities of life to those in need are central to the Judeo-Christian tradition. In Aotearoa New Zealand, the National Council of Churches helped resettle many refugees including through the Refugee and Migrant Service over many decades. Many people resettled have made significant contributions to the country and have enriched us all. Many in our member churches are supporting the call to increase the number resettled here and have offered practical help if more come here.
A Humanitarian OpportunityAs well as the international obligations to help and the willingness to assist in resettlement, the third reason for supporting an increased quota is the benefits they would bring to our country. More refugees would add to the diversity of our economic and cultural life. New communities would increase business and trade opportunities as well as the skill base.
There are groups set up to help with trauma and other issues. By surrounding them with the services they need so they can fully integrate into our towns and cities, New Zealanders will also have the opportunity to learn new skills and different understandings of the world. There are provincial areas that have lost populations and would benefit from the new influx, for example with increased school rolls. Keeping new communities together would help them hold on to their language and traditions while broadening their cultural experience. Significant numbers of New Zealanders have travelled overseas and this would be one way of returning some of the hospitality shared and given to us overseas, and a way to help at home.
Christian World a Service believes New Zealand should raise the refugee quota and at the same time increase support for the much larger humanitarian task of providing help in neighbouring countries. We are supporting the campaign to Double the Quota. 5 February 2016
Christian World Service has been doing a world of good since 1945. It works with local groups in 20 countries who are making change happen so people can live a life free from poverty. CWS is a member of the ACT Alliance (Action by Churches Together), a global coalition of more than 140 churches and church related organisations that work together in the areas of humanitarian assistance, advocacy and community development. It is supported by the Anglican, Christian, Methodist and Presbyterian Churches, the Quakers and many individual and group supporters.