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Advocates call for change to 'racist and discriminatory' refugee policy

It should be a "straight-cut" decision to cull a "racist and discriminatory refugee policy" - that's what MPs heard today over the controversial rule that explicitly prevents refugees from Africa and the Middle East coming to New Zealand, unless they already had family living here. 

Former refugee Guled Mire presented alongside World Vision's Carsten Bockemuehl, urging the Select Committee to scrap the policy. 

The issue was highlighted on TVNZ1's Sunday in May, that found New Zealand's main refugee quota had been heavily affected by the policy.

"Me and my family were resettled here almost 22-years-ago," Mr Mire said. "If we were to go back to 1997 and we had the current restrictions, the same settings in place right now, 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.

"It has to go, it's very distasteful, it's not the New Zealand that we stand for, that we should be striving for," he said. 

Mr Mire said there was already family reunification policies in place for refugees, and questioned why the extra restriction was added on top to refugees from Africa and the Middle East.

"We're simply asking for the removal of a racist and discriminatory refugee policy, that discriminates against some of the world's most vulnerable refugee communities."

Mr Bockemuehl asked the MPs to consider raising the Africa and Middle East refugee regional cap of 14 per cent of the annual intake, despite more than two thirds of the world's refugees coming from Africa and the Middle East. 

He said 12 refugees had been resettled from South Sudan while approximately 2.5 million people were displaced from their homes.   

He said the family link policy and regional cap "completely undermine the humanitarian character" of New Zealand.

Today, the Prime Minister said the Government is considering changing the family link policy. 

When asked if it was discriminatory, Ms Ardern said - "as I've said before, I do think it's something that needs to be looked at but we'll be making announcements once final decisions have been made."

"It's a setting we inherited, and now it's part of the regular review of our settings across refugees. 

When asked in July why the policy could not be changed during a Cabinet meeting, Ms 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."

Today, she would not comment if New Zealand First would support scrapping the policy. 

On June 25, NZ First leader Winston Peters said the policy was not racist.

"It can hardly be racist," Mr Peters told TVNZ1 Q+A host Jack Tame.

"None of these refugee countries have said New Zealand is racist. That's why they're queuing up to come here - because we're not."

Mr Peters said at the time total net immigration needed to be analysed first, but the policy was being looked at "as we speak".

The family link refugee policy

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said on Q+A also in June that the decision is before Government "on our next three year programme, the family link decision is part of that". 

Mr Lees-Galloway had not received "advice to that extent" of security concerns of refugees from Africa or the Middle East. "This is our opportunity to review that setting, it is the right time to do it."

On if there was cross-party support in changing the rule, Mr Lees-Galloway said he was in discussion with NZ First and the Green Party.

On TVNZ1's Breakfast in May Mr Lees-Galloway said the policy was "the very definition of discrimination", but would not explicitly say whether the Government would change the policy.

When asked why the policy was not changed earlier, Mr Lees-Galloway said that "the three-year programme is in there for a good reason... Immigration New Zealand need time to plan and operationalise the refugee intake". 

Mr Lees-Galloway would not say if he thought the law was racist, but said he had expressed his view to Cabinet.

"That's where I should be having that conversation," he said.  

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".

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Guled Mire called the family link policy "racist and discriminatory".