A refugee education centre at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre, which receives refugees coming into New Zealand.
It’s been a “really slow” start to the resettlement of 150 refugees denied entry to Australia, with just 32 people being processed for relocation five months into the scheme’s first year.
Australia agreed to accept New Zealand’s longstanding resettlement offer in March, promising to allow asylum seekers held at offshore detention centre in Nauru, or those “temporarily” in Australia, to apply with the United Nations to relocate to New Zealand.
The scheme would allow 150 refugees into New Zealand each year for the coming three years. The Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MBIE) confirmed this week that 32 people had been working with the UN High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) to be settled in New Zealand.
“We’re obviously very keen to be able to fill that quota, that’s why we’ve put that offer there … There’s nothing that we can do to force the people concerned to pursue this pathway,” Immigration Minister Michael Wood said.
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Wood said the number of people that had so far engaged with the UNHCR process was “not a big surprise” as it wasn’t always a quick process. He would be meeting with the UNHCR in the coming days.
“It’s possible to engage in encouragement in this area. But, ultimately, it is up to the people themselves to determine this is the pathway that they want to pursue.”
He said the Government hadn’t considered whether any remaining quota spaces from the first year would roll over into the following years, but it had an “open mind” about this.
“I’ve had a number of productive discussions with Home Affairs Minister Claire O’Neill in Australia, who has oversight of the deal from the Australian Government, and I think they’re very positively engaging in the process.”
Wood said, as far as he was aware, no applicants had been denied by the UNHCR.
MBIE general manager of refugee services Fiona Whiteridge said of the 32 people who had applied to relocate to New Zealand, 16 were currently in Nauru, and another 16 were in Australia.
Of those on Nauru, 14 had been interviewed by the UNHCR, and none of those in Australia had been interviewed yet as they only recently entered the process.
It took Dahir Abdirahman a decade to reach New Zealand after fleeing violence in Somalia and he was one of the last allowed in as Covid-19 shut the border. He hopes his story will inspire the Government to renew efforts to bring in more refugees.
The first of the refugees would arrive in New Zealand before the end of the year, Whiteridge said.
Australia has been encouraging asylum seekers who were not already involved in a resettlement process to apply for relocation to New Zealand, an Australian Home Affairs department spokesperson said.
A letter sent to asylum seekers by the department earlier this month asked the recipients to confirm by October 4 their plans: “Settlement in Australia is not an option for you”.
“A sizeable number of individuals have expressed interest in resettling in New Zealand,” the spokesperson said, in a statement.
Green Party human rights spokeswoman Golriz Ghahraman said the process was “really, really slow”, but the pace was not within New Zealand’s control.
Ghahraman said she had raised the issue with the UNHCR at a recent meeting, and was told a group of the refugees were unsure whether to apply for New Zealand as they had already entered a queue for a similar, even slower, processes for possible resettlement in the United States and Canada.
“Then there is another group still who haven’t applied for anything, their mental health is so unstable that they’re having trouble putting together a proper [refugee] claim.”
Ghahraman said Australia had an “absolute obligation” to better resource the process, including for the 32 that had applied to resettle in New Zealand, as the refugees needed additional mental health care and resettlement support.
“It’s the harm that these people have suffered as a result of Australia’s detention camps that means that they require extra resettlement support than a normal refugee.”
Ghahraman said the Government should “absolutely” roll over any remaining quota into the following years.
“We should also be approaching very actively our Australian counterparts and asking them to be better at the job of getting the resettlement process going.
“Their mental health has deteriorated over nine-years of being in conditions described as torture by the United Nations, because of Australian policy not because of the wars and whatever else they’ve escaped.”