Controversial refugee policy on Middle East and Africa 'up for review', says Jacinda Ardern

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the policy that explicitly prevents refugees from Africa and the Middle East from immigrating to New Zealand, unless they already have family living in the country, is up for review. 

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However, Jacinda Ardern would not elaborate on the policy that has been described as “discriminatory”. Source: Breakfast

The Government has repeatedly told media the policy is being reviewed. However, it has not disclosed how long the review would take, when it is due to finish or if Cabinet has consensus on scrapping the policy. 

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

"In your address at the memorial for the Christchurch attacks, you said compassion, kindness and a welcoming nature represents New Zealand’s best qualities," TVNZ1 Q+A host Jack Tame said. "But months on, we still have a refugee policy that your own Minister for Immigration says discriminates against refugees from Muslim-majority countries in Africa and the Middle East. Why is that?"

Ms Ardern responded that "the policy we inherited did have... particular carve-outs within it".

"It's up for review, and we are in the process of doing that work now," she said. 

When asked why it 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, so I’m not going to here put up a massive challenge for something we're already looking at."

When asked what her personal view of the policy was, Ms Ardern said she was "not going to preempt Cabinet making announcements".

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

Mr Lees-Galloway said he 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," he said. 

Asked if there was cross-party support in changing the rule, Mr Lees-Galloway said he was in discussions with New Zealand First and the Green Party.

On TVNZ1's Breakfast in May, Mr Lees-Galloway said the policy was "the very definition of discrimination".

But Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said in June the immigration policy is not racist. 

"It can hardly be racist. How could it possibly be racist when all the ones coming in are brown or black? How could that possibly be racist?" Mr Peters told Q+A.

"Maybe your definition, it's not mine."

Ms Ardern also denied the policy was racist in June. 

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Jack Tame sits down with the Prime Minister to discuss KiwiBuild, tax and climate change. Source: Q+A

Q+A is on TVNZ1 Mondays at 9.30pm, and the episode is then available on TVNZ OnDemand and as a podcast in all the usual places.