Tuesday, August 09, 2005


National's new immigration policy attacks refugees for "go[ing] straight onto a benefit", and promises to solve this by denying them access to the welfare system for four years. Quite apart from the obvious problem of refugees being left to starve, this violates our international obligations under the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Article 23 of the Convention states:

Article 23. Public relief

The Contracting States shall accord to refugees lawfully staying in their territory the same treatment with respect to public relief and assistance as is accorded to their nationals.

That's pretty clear: we are obligated to treat those we accept as refugees exactly the same as we would New Zealand citizens when it comes to welfare. I wonder what Dr Brash's response to this will be...?

Update: It gets worse - the proposed limit on family sponsorship (again targetted explicitly at refugees) would likely violate a host of international human rights instruments and UN recommendations (as well as common human decency). The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees regards [PDF] the right of refugees to family unity as

...a basic right which applies irrespective of whether or not a country is a party to the 1951 Convention.

This requires that states make practicable efforts to reunite family members who have been separated, deal with such requests in "a positive, humane, and expeditious manner", and in particular expedite requests from unaccompanied children.

If implemented, National's policy would undermine our excellent international reputation on human rights and refugee issues, and destroy the mana on which our whole foreign policy is based. But what I find most offensive is the subtext: in Brash's worldview, the basic human experience of having a family is only for the rich. This is inhuman, even for Brash; we should be seeking to enable fundamental human wants and needs, not restrict them only to the elite.


Thanks for pointing out this clueless gem of maliciousness. I've written to the Dom Post...still bloody furious.

- John Anderson

Posted by Anonymous : 8/09/2005 03:50:00 PM

Hang on - they're proposing to reduce the quota to 750? Isn't that what it already is?

And to prioritise skilled immigrants? Which is also what happens already.

-Sam Buchanan

Posted by Anonymous : 8/09/2005 04:41:00 PM

Sam: Yes - and we fill it. But we also accept between 200 and 500 other Convention refugees every year (some spontaneous, some arranged) - presumably Brash is suggesting we either cut these out, or apply them to the quota, so that spontaneous refugees really are "jumping the queue". Either way, its a narrowing of our generosity, which is bad, given that we're not even keeping pace with Australia on this front.

And yes, we are already focused on skilled migrants - to the extent that not enough people make the cut and come here anymore. if anything, our immigration requirements (at least in terms of skills and education) need to be loosened, not tightened.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 8/09/2005 05:04:00 PM

He's going to get rid of the Families Reunification programme. I'm appalled.

This is not Australia, and I don't want it to ever become like that.

Posted by Muerk : 8/09/2005 05:51:00 PM

On Morning report this morning (10 Aug) Don Brash insisted that the policy was intended to provide "better outcomes" for refugees. I'd like him to explain how making it more difficult for refugees' families to join them here improves the likelihood of "better outcomes".
Sam—the quota is currently 750, but NZ accepts about 300 family members of refugees. As Muerk says, National would scrap the family reunification scheme; therefore, family members would have to be admitted as part of the overall quota of 750. No matter how you look at it, National wants to cut the number of refugees we accept to a smidgeon over 70% of the current number. National: the compassionate party.

Posted by pohanginapete : 8/10/2005 09:00:00 AM

I wonder if Brash will start on the "We shouldn't be signing up to UN conventions without a referendum" schtick. It is very common in the U.S. and would be approved of by many of their thinktanks.

Posted by Anonymous : 8/10/2005 12:20:00 PM

Hamish: the thing is, we help write many of those conventions - most famously, the universal declaration of human rights. Having taken such a strong hand in crafting international law, it would look really bad for us to turn our back on it (Woodrow Wilson, anyone?)

Then there's that mana aspect. We have a mana-based foreign policy. You can be cynical about the reasons - we don't have much economic or military force, so we don't really have any other option - but the fact remains that we get people to do what we want essentially through mana: by being multilateralist, a "good international citizen", and adopting principled and consistent positions on things like human rights and free trade which people can respect us for even if they disagree with us. Unlike many other countries, we actually comply with the agreements we sign - and we don't go back on our word.

From what we've already seen, a Brash government would be absolutelty devastating for this. It would unravel sixty years of careful foreign policy, and make it far more difficult for us to persuade other countries in the future. And Brash is willing to put all of that on the line just so he can give himself an enormous tax cut...

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 8/10/2005 01:02:00 PM

National's policy on this makes me so angry. Refugees need our help, they need their family, not to mention the sheer emotional thing of being separated from your children, or parents, or siblings etc.

And then making them ineligable for a benefit for four years. They're refugees from some hell hole, and we're not going to keep them off the poverty line.

All this is, is another cruel targeting of people who are vulnerable in the first place. I'm sorry, I just do not buy the "better outcomes" line. No way.

Posted by Muerk : 8/10/2005 02:18:00 PM