Key’s refugee scaremongering bad for New Zealand’s race relations

John Key’s scaremongering about boat people flooding into the country damages New Zealand’s race relations, Green Party immigration spokesperson Keith Locke said today.

“While John Key’s approach may increase the National Party’s ‘redneck’ vote, as happened to John Howard in Australia, it will be at a cost to race relations in New Zealand,” said Keith Locke.

“Racial dog whistling about refugees is unbefitting of a Prime Minister.

“We should be proud when asylum seekers look to New Zealand as a compassionate country.

“John Key’s comments are denigrating to the 25 Tamil asylum seekers that have been accepted into New Zealand as refugees over the past two years, many of whom originally arrived in Indonesia as boat people.

“Boat people such as the Afghan ‘Tampa boys’ have done really well here and many are now respected New Zealanders,” said Mr Locke.

Reuters news agency quoted John Key saying people on a boat arriving here successfully get asylum, and that “thousands and thousands of other boats will come”.

“John Key needs to take a short course in New Zealand’s international obligations under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention,” said Mr Locke.

“New Zealand cannot simply ‘turn back’ asylum seekers arriving at our airports, as Mr Key claimed yesterday. We have an international obligation to properly assess their claims to see if they are genuine refugees.

“It is insulting to describe the Sri Lankan asylum seekers as ‘queue jumpers’ when they don’t have a queue to join.

“Many asylum seekers often have to flee by unorthodox means, without all their papers. That is why an unprejudiced assessment of their case is important. Making blanket statements that they are not welcome is arguably a breach of our responsibilities if they are genuine refugees.

“Tamils seeking to escape persecution have no choice but to escape by boat or plane to neighbouring countries. They don’t have the same path to refugee status as, for example, Burmese, who are processed in a camp on the Thai border.

“New Zealander’s reputation as a compassionate people was greatly enhanced when we took Afghan asylum seekers from the Tampa in 2001, at a point when the Australian government was rejecting them.

“Our Prime Minister should be welcoming boat people fleeing from repression, not using them as a wedge issue to win votes,” said Mr Locke.

For more information:

Keith Locke, MP, 021 593 399

Andrew Campbell, Political Director, 021 243 8573