Posted on October 4, 2019

Under Pressure, New Zealand Ends a Refugee Policy Branded Racist

Charlotte Graham-McLay, New York Times, October 4, 2019

After months of growing pressure, the government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand abolished on Friday a policy restricting refugees from Middle Eastern and African countries, a curb imposed by the previous government that refugee advocates called discriminatory and racist.

The reversal of the decade-old rule set New Zealand in opposition to the increasingly restrictive refugee policies of allies like Australia and the United States. Last week, the Trump administration announced a sharp cut to the number of refugees it will accept, and Australia’s system of offshore detention of refugees arriving by sea continues to draw international condemnation.

The move also lifts a political millstone from around the neck of Ms. Ardern, who has been perceived globally after the Christchurch mosque attacks in March as a champion of migrants and refugees. For months, she had been forced to deny that the policy amounted to discrimination because one of her key political allies supported it.

The restriction, introduced by the center-right government that preceded Ms. Ardern’s center-left government, which has been in power for nearly two years, allowed refugees from Middle Eastern or African nations to resettle in New Zealand only if they could prove they already had relatives there.

The rule was ostensibly meant to prioritize refugees closer to home in the Asia-Pacific region. But government documents also revealed a desire to save money on resettlement costs, as well as “broad security concerns” about refugees from Africa and the Middle East.


Under the now-discarded policy, refugees from the Middle East and Africa were each allocated 14 percent of New Zealand’s annual refugee quota of 1,000 people. But the requirement that they have family links in the country meant officials had struggled to fill the quota, said Murdoch Stephens, a lecturer at Massey University in Wellington and a campaigner against the rule.


The immigration minister, Iain Lees-Galloway, said on Friday that the Middle East and Africa quotas would each be increased from 14 percent to 15 percent. Fifty percent will continue to be drawn from the Asia-Pacific region, and 20 percent from the Americas.

New Zealand, a country of about 4.8 million people, will increase its overall quota from 1,000 people annually to 1,500 in 2020. By contrast, the United States, with nearly 330 million people, will accept only 18,000 refugees over the next 12 months.

Mr. Stephens and Mr. Mire said it had become untenable for Ms. Ardern’s government to leave the refugee restrictions in place after the terrorist attack at two mosques in Christchurch in which 51 Muslims were killed and dozens more wounded.