Refugees and appointing the most appropriate spokespeople

The subject of refugees is highly topical; the global media carries many stories about refugees, mostly from Syria. Yet, refugees come from all over the world, especially from Asia and the large continent of Africa.

New Zealand has agreed to take in only 1000 of these refugees. The number has just gone up from 750, with an agreed number of 250 from Syria. On 7 September 2015 the Government announced New Zealand will welcome 750 Syrian refugees in response to the ongoing conflict in Syria. Of the 750 places, 600 will be by way of a special emergency intake above New Zealand’s annual quota, and 150 places will be offered within the quota.

There will be 150 dedicated places within the existing 2015/16 annual quota of 750. On top of this another 100 will be taken this financial year, and a further 500 over the next two financial years (2016/17 and 2017/18).

Until now, Syrian refugees had to find their way to Asia and be interviewed by the UNHCR to get entry into New Zealand as refugees. This should now change. A few have found their way to New Zealand as asylum seekers or convention refugees, many by finding a route to study, but it’s only a small number.

So the New Zealand government, and organisations attached to it, do not have a large pool of refugees to call on represent refugee communities. So maybe they are a little too relaxed about who is appointed as spokespeople for their communities. They should not be.

One of the concerns I have had expressed to me lately is about the failure of organisations to vet their spokespeople. It would seem a relatively easy thing to do but it is not always carried out by organisations, including NGOs. This is something worth paying attention too if New Zealand wants refugees to get the right message across.

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Tuesday, 28 June 2022