Government to Fund Refugee Travel

  • Max Bradford

The Government is to pay international travel to New Zealand for refugees referred by the UNHCR under the annual refugee quota program, Immigration Minister Max Bradford has announced.

Mr Bradford announced the initiative in Geneva, after discussions with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mrs Sadako Ogata.

The Government has allocated $945,000 (GST exclusive) to refugee travel funding in the 1997 Budget. Annual funding is to be ongoing, Mr Bradford said.

Previously the UNHCR paid for refugees to travel to New Zealand, while the Government paid for the cost of resettling the refugees in this country.

"It was critical to the continuation of the refugee quota programme in this country that the Government assume responsibility for travel funding," Mr Bradford said.

"I firmly believe continued cooperation with the UNHCR is the best way for the New Zealand Government to respond to the worldwide refugee problem and honour its international humanitarian commitments."

To help pay for the cost of the travel funding, it was necessary to reduce the annual refugee quota from 800 to 750. This move was supported by the UNHCR.

Mr Bradford said the reduction would not prove to be a significant issue as in the past the UNHCR has not always filled the quota of 800.

While in Geneva, Mr Bradford held discussions with the UNHCR and the International Organisation of Migration, regarding the burgeoning problem of asylum seekers.

"It is a worldwide problem, often associated with organised crime, and New Zealand needs to play a part in helping remove the sources of non-genuine asylum seekers," Mr Bradford said.

"The UNHCR and the IOM have offered their assistance to help solve New Zealand's situation which has seen asylum seekers double each year recently."

Mr Bradford said with the support of these organisations he hoped to introduce measures to deal with New Zealand's asylum seeker problem later this year.

Out the 184 member states in the United Nations New Zealand is one of only 10 which have annual refugee resettlement quotas.

"New Zealand increased its core funding to the UNHCR in 1996/97 by 25 per cent to $1.25 million and intends to maintain this level of funding in future. In addition we gave $750,000 to the UNHCR this year to assist with the organisation's work in the Great Lakes region of Africa."

New Zealand has been accepting refugees for resettlement since the end of the second world war. Since then more than 20,000 refugees and displaced persons have settled in New Zealand.

Refugees accepted within the UNHCR quota are entitled to live in NZ permanently and to enjoy the same rights as New Zealanders. They undergo a six week orientation course at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre, before being settled in the community with the help of sponsors.