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NZ endorses international pledge to support refugee programme

Amnesty International is welcoming a move by New Zealand to show its support for a refugee community sponsorship programme, which is a scheme that brings refugees into the country on top of the current quota.

A refugee camp in Syria. Source: istock.com

It comes after organisations and community groups called on the Government to implement the programme permanently, after a pilot version of the scheme was run. 

The sponsorship category lets organisations bring refugees into the country on top of the current quota, seeing 24 refugees resettled in Nelson, Hamilton, Timaru and Christchurch.

The joint ministerial statement was also signed by Ministers from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Ireland and Spain. 

It said they were "convinced of the potential and demonstrated positive outcomes of this model for building welcoming and inclusive communities, and for creating additional protection spaces in countries where it has been implemented with success".

"We call upon members of the international community to consider community-based refugee sponsorship as a model," it says. 

"In partnership with government, community-based refugee sponsorship leverages this goodwill by allowing sponsors to commit to providing emotional and integration support to help newly arrived refugees adapt to life in a new country."

Amnesty International executive director Meg de Ronde said they "warmly welcome" the move and the pilot programme held in New Zealand "is a success story we can all be proud of".

"We now have organisations enquiring as to how they can become sponsors, from church groups to local businesses and sports clubs, we’d like to see more organisations given the opportunity to assist in what is a growing global crisis; there are now over 25 million people seeking refuge worldwide.

"Especially with a growth in global politics that feeds xenophobia and division, we need programmes like this that connect people in their common humanity."

New Zealand's Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway wrote on the pledge that New Zealand was committed to working towards "innovative and durable protection solutions for refugees". 

He said despite the pilot that was run in New Zealand being small, "it had been incredibly encouraging to see is the positive impact the Community Organisation Refugee Sponsorship Category has had, in a short time, on sponsored refugees’ lives, the community organisation sponsors and the wider community who are supporting refugee settlement in New Zealand". 

However, it is unclear whether the scheme will be introduced in New Zealand. 

Canada's Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said his country had resettled more than 300,000 refugees through its community sponsorship programme. 

Ahead of the Global Refugee Forum underway in Geneva, an open letter was written to the New Zealand Government "to better include refugee voices in policy making, increase the number of places available under the Refugee Family Support Category and to establish the Community Organisation Refugee Sponsorship category as a permanent pathway in New Zealand’s broader refugee and humanitarian programme".

It was signed by 11 groups including Amnesty, Refugee Family Reunification Trust, Oxfam New Zealand and Aotearoa Resettled Community Coalition. 

The joint ministerial statement happened at the world’s first Global Refugee Forum as the world sees the highest levels of displacement on record.

The forum is seeking to cement and mobilise the Global Compact on Refugees, aiming to ease pressure on countries taking large numbers of refugees, enhance refugee self-reliance and support people who are able to return to their original country safely.