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5 Feb, 2021 11:06

New Zealand allows refugees in again after year-long Covid-19 hiatus, but won’t meet own quota of 1,500 per year

New Zealand allows refugees in again after year-long Covid-19 hiatus, but won’t meet own quota of 1,500 per year

A small group of 35 refugees is set to arrive in New Zealand this month, as the country resumes its immigration program, put on hold due to Covid-19. It won’t be able to meet its internally set quota, however, disappointing some.

The refugees are to complete a 14-day quarantine before being sent to a resettlement center in Auckland to proceed with their relocation, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) said on Friday. Theirs is the first group to enter the country since March 2020, when the Refugee Quota Programme was suspended due to the pandemic for all but a handful of emergency cases.

The authorities are working together to coordinate arrivals so as to “minimise any impact on available places at isolation facilities, and ensure that the limited resumption of New Zealand’s refugee commitments does not displace other people,” INZ’s general manager of refugee and migrant services, Fiona Whiteridge, said.

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Before the pandemic, New Zealand pledged to resettle 1,500 refugees each year. The government had announced in 2018 that it was raising the quota by half from 1,000 a year by July 2020, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saying it was “the right thing to do.”

Despite the renewal of the program, the target number is not expected to be met this year, the Kiwi immigration body said. By the end of June, 210 refugees will likely be welcomed in New Zealand.

The limited scope of the reinstated effort was noted by the New Zealand Red Cross, which said that, while it supported the arrival of the new group as a “promising start,” it hoped the government would do more for refugees.

“Since March 2020, when New Zealand borders closed, until today, 1,217 people due to come here haven’t arrived, so we have a lot of catching up to do,” said the Red Cross’s general manager of migration, Rachel O’Connor. “At the moment, there are over a thousand people who have been accepted but were unable to come to New Zealand due to travel and border restrictions.”

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New Zealand’s borders remain closed for regular travel as the country prepares to unroll its national vaccination program later this year. The island nation is celebrated as one of the most successful in dealing with the pandemic, thanks to a robust test-and-trace program and public support for government measures to keep coronavirus in check. It has reported around 2,000 infections and just 25 deaths due to Covid-19.

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