#WagePeaceNZ ‘Sunday Selfies Send Minister a Message’

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Double Refugee Quota

See here the open letter sent by WagePeaceNZ to the Minister of Immigration on doubling the refugee quotas, detaining asylum seekers etc:


Re: #WagePeaceNZ ‘Sunday Selfies Send Minister a Message’Dear Minister Woodhouse,


We haven’t met yet, but I hope that will change in the future. I am a columnist by trade, but am wearing a different hat today.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I began an initiative called #WagePeaceNZ. Initially, I began it as a reaction to the government’s call for troop deployment in Iraq. When I heard our Prime Minister passionately arguing for his colleagues to ‘get on the right side’, I was most struck by what wasn’t said. No one considered what seemed to me a wholly constructive, equally moral alternative, one that is humane, far more measurable, and yes, even potentially cheaper than putting Kiwi lives on the line again for this war; New Zealand could double its refugee quota and support. As a small nation, New Zealand could build the lives that war destroys instead and—well, simply put, wage peace.

Regardless of how any Kiwi feels about NZ’s troop deployment, one thing has been incredibly clear to me, we haven’t contributed nearly enough on the world stage for refugees. When you will be reviewing our refugee quota next year, you will certainly be cognisant that our own refugee quota hasn’t budged in almost three decades now, even though our population numbers have grown by 39%. Indeed, our asylum arrivals have shriveled too. Today, we get anywhere from half to five times less asylum seekers than we did before 9-11 when airplane interdiction ramped up dramatically, stopping potential arrivals from ever boarding a plane. Even if we doubled our quota—at the very least, we’d only move from 87th in the world to 78th for the total number of refugees and asylum seekers we host, not terribly impressive for a country with our per capita income.

What all these numbers really mean is that as we’ve grown as a nation over the last 28 years, our real contribution to saving refugee lives has shrunk.

But #WagePeaceNZ isn’t only about quotas. I began the initiative to raise awareness on all asylum and refugee issues in NZ, a sector that is, frankly, quite tiny in this country, relative to the rest of the world. My personal frustration is that the few folks still able to work in the field are so stretched, there is no room for education, media or advocacy to Kiwis who aren’t familiar with the issues at hand. I’m hoping #WagePeaceNZ can help change that.

Yesterday you may have noticed a slew of homemade signs and selfies land in your email box from NZ MP’s, shopkeepers, barbers, kids, teddy bears, dogs—yes, even sock puppets. It was the NZ response to a global initiative to call out Australia on what I feel is its disastrous choice of trying to sell off its human rights obligations to poorer nations. Sadly, it’s working. The cost of refugee imprisonment has been huge, in every sense. Australia has now strapped itself into spending billions of dollars to ship families, against their will, to third countries. It has significantly damaged its international reputation. But most importantly, it has made itself part of the problem. The great irony is, the country that says it wants to stop human trafficking has now become traffickers in human lives themselves.

A report just submitted to the UN has concluded Australia has contravened the Conventions on Torture, a sad indictment indeed. There have been deaths, beatings, physical and sexual abuse of women and children, all detailed in Australia’s own internal reports. Today, children are still imprisoned, something no Kiwi would support in this country, I feel sure.

Here is the core of my frustration: New Zealand has remained absolutely silent on this. In fact, what’s more worrying, in 2013, when our Prime Minister finished his Queenstown meeting with Julia Guillard, he seemed to welcome the idea that NZ had been invited to send any future boat arrivals to the prison camps on Manus and Nauru too.

I feel quite strongly that no Kiwi would welcome that prospect. I once questioned you in a forum on this and your response was this was ‘unlikely’. As I was limited in my questioning, I never learned if your response was because, indeed, New Zealand has never had a boatload of asylum seekers arrive—at least in modern history.

Kindly clarify your response, as ‘unlikely’ is far from what our Prime Minister calls getting ‘on the right side on this issue, the simple moral imperative that is at stake here.

My question stands: will you and the Prime Minister state publicly that New Zealand will have no part in future offshore detention of boat arrivals?

Further, will you and the Prime Minister—at the very least—ask Australia to meet their obligations under the Conventions on Torture, to stop imprisoning children, and to stop this unprecedented regional push to sell human lives to nations who need the money they offer?

I fervently believe this is the honourable response Kiwis endorse. In just two days of effort, I got 13 MPs (two now retired) to send me their selfies, plus a damned encouraging response from folks sending them into the new #WagePeaceNZ Facebook page, now only a few weeks old. I also run a sister initiative called, #WeAreBetterThanThat, began in reaction to the government initiating refugee detention in New Zealand in 2012, so many came from there as well. For me, that’s an encouraging start. I posted just a few dozen, as it was the Cricket finals and didn’t want to drown folks. Please note, readers started reporting that their photos bounced back—perhaps the larger photos files filled your in-box—you may want to clear it? I attach the album links here, https://www.facebook.com/WeAreBetterThanThat/photos_stream or here, https://www.facebook.com/wagepeacenz/photos_stream

I hope we can work together on this in the coming year. We may not agree on some elements of the issue, but I want to believe that there can be a meeting place that starts with compassion. New Zealand’s silence has been deafening. I truly hope you will consider changing that.


Tracey Barnett

#WagePeaceNZ https://www.facebook.com/wagepeacenz

#WeAreBetterThanThat https://www.facebook.com/WeAreBetterThanThat