Our reporter Charlie is currently on exchange in Canada, and offers a perspective on the refugee issue from a Canadian point of view, as well as New Zealand.
The New Zealand Government has changed its tune on refugees in the wake of increased media attention and will allow 750 more Syrian refugees to be resettled in New Zealand over the next three years. This is on top of the 750 New Zealand annually accepts in our refugee quota.
The decision was influenced by recent international outrage over deaths of the two Syrian boys and their mother off the coast Greece. Media coverage has led to conversations about the refugee quotas of Western countries, especially Canada and New Zealand.
In New Zealand, leading academics and Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy have been pushing for an increase in the refugee quota.
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Devoy told TV3’s The Nation that New Zealand should double the refugee quota over the next five years. “For a country that’s renowned for punching above our weight on the world stage, when it comes to taking in refugees, we lag behind the rest of the world.”
Dr Alan Gamlen, a senior lecturer in human geography at Victoria University, also supported the increased quota. In an article published in The New Zealand Herald on 3 September he stated, “New Zealand should set an example to Europe and the rest of the world by raising our refugee quota substantially and urging our Security Council partners and other countries around the world to do the same, as a matter of urgency. In service of our values and our interests, it is the right thing to do.”
Victoria student Enatha Musabe told Salient about her experience as a refugee from Rwanda and her thoughts on the refugee quota. She claimed that the refugee quota should be doubled and is upset at the Government’s slow response. “The fact that John Key did not want to entertain the thought of supporting those refugees was heart breaking and sad,” she said.
In Canada there has also been increasing public pressure to raise the country’s refugee quota. Recently a number of marches were held in support of increasing the number of Syrian refugees allowed to resettle in Canada.
Public outcry in Canada comes after it was revealed that the aunt of the aforementioned Syrian boys lived in Vancouver and had been attempting to bring the family to Canada. However, Citizenship and Immigration Canada clarified on Thursday that no formal application for refugee status had been made on behalf of the family.
There has been a mixed response from Canadian political parties.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is standing firm on not allowing any more refugees until after federal elections later this year, but agrees more needs to be done and that includes military intervention.
“Refugee policy alone is not a solution to this process,” he said.
The opposition parties rejected Harper’s statement, arguing that Canada can do more.
The National Democratic Party’s leader, Thomas Mulcair, argued that Canada had failed Syrian refugees, and that the country should pledge to accept a further 10,000.
New Zealand currently takes 750 refugees per year. This number has not changed since 1987. By contrast, Canada takes between 10,000 and 14,000 refugees each year.
Refugees and Victoria
According to the University, 66 students who identified as coming from a refugee background enrolled at the University this year, along with 173 enrollments in 2014.
In 2006, Victoria established the Victoria University Network to Support Refugee Background Students, and was the first university in New Zealand to carry out research into the area.
The Network involves academic, support staff and students from Victoria, as well as representatives from organisations like Changemakers Refugee Forum and Red Cross Refugee Services and aims to research and advocate with and for refugee-background students at Victoria.
VUWSA President Rick Zwaan told Salient that VUWSA “support the work of the refugee drop in centre and our Student Advocate supports individuals as well. A number of the cleaners at Victoria are from refugee backgrounds and are underpaid so our support for the Living Wage campaign hopes to change that.”
Other initiatives from the University include:
- Ongoing advocacy, research and action from staff and students.
- Annual welcome event connecting new refugee-background students with current students and members of the Network.
- Global Remix—a refugee-background student social club, which supported the development of the Drop-In Centre—hosted in Murphy Building, 4–6pm Mon–Fri.
- Publication of a targeted resource for refugee-background students “Opening Doors”, which has been recognised as a model for other tertiary institutions to adopt by the Department of Immigration.
- Up to three targeted “Equity Scholarships” for refugee-background students enrolled in a degree programme, worth up to $2000 each (from 2013).
If you are a student with a refugee-background looking for help, please visit http://www.victoria.ac.nz/students/get-involved/communities/refugee-background-students