The New Zealand Catholic Bishops’ Conference has deemed today, 9 July, as the day when we particularly remember the needs of refugees and migrants.
Many of our Catholic parish and school communities are distinguished by the increasing cultural diversity which has resulted from new groups of migrants and refugees coming to New Zealand.
However, there are many myths circulating about refugees, which makes it more difficult for them to find a home in New Zealand.
As part of its contribution to the New Zealand Diversity Action programme, Caritas is preparing a simple resource answering some of the most commonly encountered ‘refugee myths’.
Caritas research and advocacy officer Lisa Beech said one of the myths she encounters most frequently is that ‘If we let one refugee into the country, they will bring 20 of their relatives’.
By contrast, the experience of groups working with refugees is that it is increasingly difficult for refugees to become reunited with family members.
Another frequently encountered myth is that refugees are criminals because they travel without passports. However, it is an acknowledged part of the refugee experience that people fleeing from persecution are often not in a position to apply for travel documents.
The New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference prepared a statement in 2002 on Refugees and Migrants, which spoke with concern about attitudes of prejudice and fear towards refugees and migrants. However, they said they believed such attitudes were not held by most New Zealanders.
‘We believe that the majority of our citizens do not want to see refugees and migrants become society’s scapegoats. We are heartened by the support and solidarity towards newcomers that we observe.’
Vulnerable remembered in Immigration Act Review submissions
Catholic submissions have reminded the Department of Labour to particularly take into account New Zealand’s responsibilities towards the most vulnerable groups of migrants, particularly refugees, displaced people and other migrants who are forced by circumstances beyond their control to seek a new home.
Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand recognised there is sometimes a tension between a compassionate response to people in need and meeting New Zealand’s economic needs through immigration.
Caritas agreed with the Human Rights Commission that considering the issue through human rights standards provides a way to balance the tensions involved in immigration issues.
Caritas strongly supports the intention to include New Zealand’s other international commitments in the legislation – particularly our commitments under the Convention on Torture – but asked the review to also take into account vulnerable groups of people who are not covered by any existing international agreement.
‘We see a particular need for New Zealand to prepare for the onset of people displaced by environmental factors, such as climate change, which is predicted to create a million displaced people in the Pacific alone by the end of this century,’ the Caritas submission says.
The Caritas submission also speaks of the growing trend to resent and fear, rather than to welcome, the stranger.
‘These attitudes of resentment and fear are often built on hostility and discrimination, which is itself based on rumour, suspicion and jealousy. In this context, principles of natural justice become more, rather than less, important.’
In this context, Caritas opposed recommendations in the review which could see a greater use of routine detention of asylum seekers, extension of police powers to immigration officials, greater use of classified security information without an opportunity for affected people to see what had been said about them, and increased penalties for airline carriers who bring asylum seekers to New Zealand.