NZ refugee policy 'the very definition of discrimination' - Immigration Minister

New Zealand's current refugee policy, as it pertains to people from Africa and the Middle East, is "the very definition of discrimination", Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway acknowledged today. But he declined to explicitly say whether the Government will change the policy. 

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But Iain Lees-Galloway wouldn’t tell Breakfast whether the policy regarding people from Africa and the Middle East will now change. Source: Breakfast

The Immigration Minister's comments on Breakfast this morning follow an investigative piece on TVNZ1's Sunday that looked into the family-link refugee policy, called "racist" and "unfair" for allowing very few people from those areas into the country. 

Implemented in 2009, before Labour took power, the policy is now under review, Mr Lees-Galloway told Breakfast host John Campbell today.

"It was a decision [the National Party] made when they were in Government, they decided to focus on taking refugees from the Asia Pacific region," he said. "They wanted New Zealand to be a good neighbour, and they did that by deciding to take more people from that region and putting the family link in place."

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New Zealand’s refugee policy discriminates against those from Africa and the Middle East. Experts say it could breach our human rights obligations. Source: Sunday

The previous Government took less immigrants from Africa and the Middle East because of "broad security concerns", with the reasons never made public. Immigrants come to New Zealand through the The UN Refugee Agency, also known as the UNHCR, and go through rigorous checks before being allowed into the country.

"Were the broad security concerns disingenuous?" the Breakfast host asked Mr Lees-Galloway today. 

"I wasn't at the Cabinet meeting when that decision was made," the Immigration Minister replied. "You'd really have to ask the people that made that decision."

There's no doubt Labour isn't responsible for the initial decision, Campbell said. 

"But I wonder at what stage it becomes disingenuous to keep saying that?" he retorted. "In other words, you have been in Government for 18 months now...At what stage is this 'Government of transformation and kindness' going to lead to alter something which you yourself have just described as discriminatory?"

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The policy, put in place by National in 2009, discriminates against people from Africa and the Middle East. Source: Breakfast

But policies like this are put in place for three years at a time, and that's for good reason, Mr Lees-Galloway responded. 

"[It's] to allow our officials...the opportunity to plan and to run the programme well," he said. "We are about to make a decision on our settings for the next three years. That is the opportunity for this Government to show what its decision is on the family link and exactly how many people we do take from each part of the world."

He said the UNHCR has indicated very strongly that there is a significant need in Africa and in the Middle East.

"As we make our decision we have to balance both what the previous Government talked about - which is being a good neighbour, doing our bit in the Asia Pacific region - and also acknowledging where the greatest need is around the world."