Opening of the Grove Hostel for Asylum SeekersImmigration
26 Grove Road
Thank you for inviting me here today to take part in the opening of this hostel.
Being a Member of Parliament and Minister of Immigration has its ups and downs. There are times when disillusionment sets in.
I am happy to say it is occasions like this, and people like you, who help restore my faith in the basic goodness of people.
Our Government in New Zealand may come in for a fair amount of criticism - especially at the moment - but it protects fundamental freedoms and human rights - life, security, democracy, non-discrimination, justice, freedom of expression, belief and association.
These are things we take for granted, but millions of people in the world do not share our reality.
millions who have been forced to flee their countries because of persecution....
millions whose Governments do not recognise or protect the basic human rights and freedoms rights of individuals
The subject of refugees will always be an emotive one.
Refugee numbers have mushroomed from 1.5 million in 1951, to the point where the UNHCR is now responsible for 26 million refugees, displaced persons and returnees.
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.
We accept a quota of up to 800 refugees each year, divided into special categories, who are identified and referred to New Zealand by the UNHCR.
New Zealand has long been a leader in its humanitarian policies and so it will remain.
Refugees accepted within the quota are entitled to live in NZ permanently and to enjoy the same rights as New Zealand citizens. They undergo a six week orientation course at the Mangere Refugee Reception Centre, before being settled in the community with the help of sponsors.
The people who need your help here at this hostel are those who have arrived in New Zealand under their own steam, outside the UNHCR quota and the resources allocated to them.
I want to stress that New Zealand will not turn away genuine asylum seekers who come here of their own accord seeking refuge from persecution.
It is part of our responsibility as a member of the international community - bound by treaties - to protect refugees, give them basic rights and not to force them to return to the country of persecution.
But even the UNHCR acknowledges the problems posed by the mixture of genuine asylum seekers and of people escaping from economic hardship.
I am in no way suggesting that New Zealand back down from its humanitarian obligations to refugees under international law.
But we must find a way of making the procedures for asylum seekers faster and fairer, and less prone to exploitation.
A time-consuming, unwieldy system is expensive and unfair to those genuinely in need of refuge who must wait months in uncertainty before they know if they can remain safely in New Zealand.
Officials are currently working through proposals to make the system faster and fairer for the benefit of everyone.
In that way we can continue to offer humanitarian aid to those who need it most.
Much of what New Zealand is doing to help the plight of refugees can be attributed to the care, generosity and willingness of refugee organisations and the wider community in helping refugee families and getting them established.
I understand your hostel first opened its doors earlier this year and has since taken in around 30 asylum seekers.
It is all too easy to turn a blind eye to people's suffering.
Today, I acknowledge the work of your organisation which takes in people who desperately need help.
You have seen a need, and moved in to do something about it. This hostel and the work it carries out, funded by donations and grants, is a credit to everyone involved.