Now is the time for New Zealand to double its refugee quota

10 July 2015, 16:59 UTC | New Zealand
Salil Shetty - Global Secretary General of Amnesty International

I would like to congratulate you all, staff, board, volunteers and supporters for all that you have achieved at Amnesty International New Zealand in recent years. The growing visibility and influence of Amnesty International New Zealand was clear to me returning after
four years. I hope my visit to New Zealand will contribute to achieving our broad goals in fundraising, media and activism and more immediately in doubling the refugee quota. 

No matter how many refugee camps I visit, I can never get used to the suffering people endured before making the decision to flee, often leaving everything behind. Real people who are forced to flee through no fault of their own; each one with a name, face, and a family just like you and me. In the camps they are in limbo, waiting for the chance to restart their lives. 

This isn’t just a problem happening far away on the other side of the world. Today there is a refugee tragedy unfolding much closer to home, as Rohingya people flee Myanmar. I have heard their stories: of houses burnt, family members killed. This is an ethnic  group routinely denied things like an education for their children, access to healthcare or the right to work. They live in constant fear of violence.

It is no wonder, then, that people climb onto overcrowded and unseaworthy boats and pray they make it to safety. 

This is a last resort for people with nowhere else to turn. It is a decision made when there are no other options. They are teachers, builders and mothers who are literally dying to come to a safe country like yours. 

Refusing to help right now is inhuman and indefensible, equivalent to pulling up the drawbridge while children, men, and women die outside our walls. 

When governments tell me they are desperate for help  from countries that they feel are currently judging from afar, with a “not my problem” attitude and ask me to raise this with those countries, I promise to do so. 

If ever there was a time for New Zealand to be on the right side of history, it is now. 

As New Zealand takes up the presidency of the UN Security Council in July, it needs to step up for the most vulnerable people rather than watch from afar. I have seen first-hand that in return, refugees bring skills and a determination to contribute to their new home countries. 

Amnesty International firmly recommends that New Zealand double its annual refugee quota. This is the message I delivered in meetings with your government leaders earlier this month. It is the message I hope you will join me in speaking out on until your government does the right thing.

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