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NZ's 'racist and discriminatory' refugee policy must be fixed, new Race Relations Commissioner says

Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon has strongly criticised a "racist and discriminatory" policy against refugees from Africa and the Middle East, urging the Government to "fix it and make it fair".

The controversial rule explicitly prevents refugees from Africa and the Middle East coming to New Zealand, unless they already have family living here. The refugee quota has been heavily impacted.

"Policies that single out African and Middle Eastern refugees and treat them unfairly in comparison to other refugees are unacceptable," Mr Foon told 1 NEWS, in his strongest statement on the issue to date. 

"It is not right. No one chooses to be a refugee.

"To imply that African and Middle Eastern refugees pose a security threat and can slip through the cracks is misleading and reinforces harmful stereotypes."

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He recently retired as mayor of Gisborne. Source: 1 NEWS

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway acknowledged on TVNZ1's Q+A in June he had not received advice "to that extent" of any security concerns of refugees from Africa or the Middle East.

Mr Foon said all refugees that come to New Zealand, no matter where they come from, comply with "robust and stringent processes".

"Refugee applications should be treated on the same basis irrespective of country of origin. I encourage the Government to fix it and make it fair. All leaders of Government must be fair. I'm supporting others who are calling out this discriminatory policy."

He recalled a "racist and discriminatory" law passed in 1881 called the Chinese Immigration Act, which imposed a tax on Chinese immigrants, "to try and stop the migration of Chinese people coming to New Zealand".

"My own family has been affected by similar discriminatory policies," Mr Foon said. "This is a case of history repeating itself."

Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt said he "robustly" supported Mr Foon's position.

"No government policy can be discriminatory," he said.

Guled Mire, a prominent refugee and Muslim community advocate, said the community were grateful and heartened by Mr Foon's comments on the family link policy.

"Now is the time to decide if we truly want to be a country that stands for fairness, diversity and inclusion, or one that holds onto the status quo even when it is racist or discriminatory," Mr Mire said.

He said that everyone was "worthy of the same human rights and we now have an opportunity to do better and to make things fair".

"The Race Relations Commissioner makes a great parallel with the Chinese Poll Tax: how will NZ history look back on this racist policy? How will our mokopuna feel when they see how we heard the remarks 'they are us' but then continued to leave the door shut on us? My hope is that the next generation will look back with pride at how our country responded to tragedy - with kindness, compassion and treating everyone with dignity."

"My community would like to see the reassuring remarks by the Prime Minister following the Christchurch attacks translated directly into action. New Zealand and the wider global community are watching closely to see how the unity in the wake of Christchurch translates into actual policy."

Background

The Government have been questioned by media 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.

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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

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".

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Currently it explicitly prevents people from those areas coming here, unless they already have family living in the country. Source: Q+A

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".

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

"We're reviewing it right as we speak."

Last month, 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".

Meng Foon. Source: 1 NEWS