The Government has scrapped the controversial Africa and Middle East family link refugee policy, labelled discriminatory and racist by Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon.
It comes after months of questioning by media of the policy that explicitly prevented refugees from Africa and the Middle East coming to New Zealand, unless they already have family living here.
The continuation of the family link policy has been highly contentious and was found to have heavily impacted on the refugee quota.
Today, Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway described New Zealand as a “welcoming and inclusive nation committed to supporting some of the world’s most vulnerable people to rebuild their lives and thrive”.
Mr Lees-Galloway said it would mean more refugees with priority needs from Africa and the Middle East could resettle in New Zealand.
“It needed to go… We weren’t even meeting our current allocation proportions.”
“We knew changes needed to be made and today’s announcements reflect the priority this Government gives to people who need refugee assistance,” he said.
Mr Lees-Galloway acknowledged the family link policy was "the very definition of discrimination" when questioned in May, after the issue was highlighted on TVNZ1's Sunday programme.
Further changes to New Zealand’s refugee policy, announced today in Palmerston North, would see the allocation of Africa and Middle East refugees rise from 14 per cent to 15 per cent.
Despite the refugee quota being 14 per cent for the Middle East and Africa, the allocation was only allowing for 1.2 per cent of refugees from the Middle East and 5.3 per cent from Africa.
“It wasn’t serving New Zealand’s interests well,” Mr Lees-Galloway said, adding the link was "getting in the way of fulfilling refugee obligations".
Asked about the delay, as the refugee policy reset announcement had been delayed since July, Mr Lees-Galloway said it took time to develop policy in a coalition Government.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern issued a similar reply when she was asked about the delay in July, saying that sentiment was "often what you think when you're not inside Government, then you come in and go through a process".
More than two-thirds of the world's refugees come from Africa and the Middle East.
The number of places within the refugee quota for large-scale refugee crisis situations rises from 100 to 200 a year “to maintain flexibility to respond to a new global refugee crisis”.
The the sub-category for women at risk rises from 75 places a year to 150.
“Just last year we increased our refugee quota from 1000 to 1500 for 2020, announced six new settlement locations, we’ve been expanding our Māngere resettlement centre and have strengthened settlement support,” Mr Lees-Galloway said.
The Government has also pledged $6.6 million over four years to go towards the Welcoming Communities programme, which aims to help newcomers “feel welcome and included in the places they have chosen to live”.
“Evaluation findings show that the programme is starting to deliver economic, social and cultural benefits,” Mr Lees-Galloway said.
Green Party Golriz Ghahraman welcomed the decision to drop the “discriminatory” family link policy, saying today's announcement was “principled refugee policy that puts fairness and inclusion first”.
“Today’s announcement sends an important signal to our refugee background communities from Africa and the Middle East – whatever their faith or ethnicity – that we welcome them and they are part of the enduring fabric of New Zealand society,” she said.
The family link policy
The Government have been questioned continually since the issue was highlighted on TVNZ1's Sunday in May, on whether the policy is racist and discriminatory, and if it will change.
In May on TVNZ1's Breakfast, Mr Lees-Galloway said the policy was "the very definition of discrimination" but would not explicitly say whether the Government would change the policy.
Mr Lees-Galloway said on Q+A in June that the decision was before Government "on our next three-year programme, the family link decision is part of that".
When asked in June why the policy was not changed earlier, Mr Lees-Galloway said that "Immigration New Zealand need time to plan and operationalise the refugee intake".
When asked in July why the policy could not be changed during a Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that sentiment was "often what you think when you're not inside Government, then you come in and go through a process".
"We're reviewing it right as we speak."
In August, Ms Ardern said she thought the policy was "something that needs to be looked at but we'll be making announcements once final decisions have been made".
In a statement, the UNHCR - the UN's refugee agency - told TVNZ refugee laws should be applied "without discrimination to race, religion or country of origin".
Former refugee and Muslim community advocate applauds announcement.
Former refugee and Muslim community advocate Guled Mire had been calling for the policy to be scrapped – telling a Select Committee in August if the family link policy had been in place when he came to New Zealand “the reality is I would not be here today”.
"Right from the get-go the impact was felt almost instantly when these changes came into place in late 2008-2009. Numbers started dwindling."
"For years, we've seen the dehumanisation of our people being treated as terrorists, being framed as being a danger to society.
"This was a policy intentionally designed to keep people like me, out.”
Mr Mire is attending the Global Refugee Forum in December, telling 1 NEWS yesterday it was “important that we practise what we preach as a country”.
“This means removing the racist and discriminatory family link policy, which makes it nearly impossible for refugees from African and Middle Eastern backgrounds to resettle in New Zealand.”
Amnesty NZ also came out against the policy, calling it “arbitrary”.