'Doing nothing is not an option'

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Grieving Abdullah Kurdi, the father of the two Syrian refugees found washed up on the beach, arrives at a morgue. Photo / AP
Warning: This article contains images that readers may find distressing

By Rachel Smalley

It's been a very interesting week for John Key and the National Party.

I think the party's strategists thought their centre-right voter base would support them when it came to the refugee crisis. But as more and more horrific images have been beamed around the world, it's become clear that an increasing number of New Zealanders feel we should be doing more.

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Another harrowing image: Father throws his wife and child on train tracks

The images are horrendous. Dead Syrian children washing up on European beaches. Distraught mothers holding their babies and looking through razor wire. People dying, suffocating in trucks trying to flee their desperate and dead-end situations.

The situation has deteriorated and rapidly. It is nothing, if not emotive.

National's tough talk at the start of the week has softened in the last 24 hours. And so it should. The government spent a small fortune of taxpayer dollars securing a seat on the UN Security Council, and then, when faced with our first big decision, the government looked at this issue from a populist domestic perspective.

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A Turkish police officer stands next to the body of Aylan Kurdi. Photo / AP
A Turkish police officer stands next to the body of Aylan Kurdi. Photo / AP

That's where the government got it wrong. It's a global issue. It requires a global response.

Continued below.

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So now the Prime Minister is beginning to move. He says he's not ruling out looking at whether we could do more. That's a signal that he's shifting on this. But like all things political, he can't move too quickly - it has to appear that it's the government's decision and that he's not simply appeasing the public or, god forbid, the opposition.

Galip and Aylan Kurdi, right, came from the Syrian city of Kobane. They both drowned while trying to reach Greece. Photo / AP
Galip and Aylan Kurdi, right, came from the Syrian city of Kobane. They both drowned while trying to reach Greece. Photo / AP

Will he lift the quota soon? No, I don't think he will. He may bring forward a review of the quota, and raise it next year - but I don't think he will do it now. But he does have to respond to what we're seeing in Europe. It could be that he allows a small emergency intake. 100 or 200 people, perhaps. And that will take the pressure off the government for the moment, and appease the growing chorus of critics.

Tima Kurdi, touches a photo of her nephews Alan and Galib Kurdi while speaking to the media outside her home. Photo / AP
Tima Kurdi, touches a photo of her nephews Alan and Galib Kurdi while speaking to the media outside her home. Photo / AP

Doing nothing is not an option. Will it change the situation in the Middle East? No. Of course not. The problem is huge. But there can be no defence for doing nothing.

National will have been polling behind the scenes on this issue, and I think we can read between the lines as to what the results of that poll were - when faced with the biggest humanitarian crisis on the planet today, our government got it very, very wrong.

Debate on this article is now closed.

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188 Comments

Wendy

-
11:09 am Sunday 06 September 2015
"You are wrong when you say "NZ has a very small refugee quota compared to other countries". In proportion to the size of the population here, we are doing as much as, if not more than a lot of other countries."

90th in the world per capita at hosting refugees isn't really big in proportion to a lot of other countries.

Dayan

- South Auckland
11:09 am Sunday 06 September 2015
Why is it always down to us in the West, Arab countries are enormously wealthy, Qatar is spending a quarter trillion dollars on stadiums for the FIFA world cup but are quite willing to see their Arab brothers and sisters annihilated just next door.
Go read "The Camp of the Saints" to see where Europe and the West are headed.

Dayan

- South Auckland
11:08 am Sunday 06 September 2015
It seemed like a good idea at the time but...

These poor refugees, I feel for them but I don't think the best idea is to bring them all to the West. You say it's a global problem but I see little help from the world beyond the West. These people are not really compatible with Western culture.

We all heard of the refugee success story but these are outweighed by those who struggle to assimilate and become a burden or even hostile to us. A survey in the US shows that years later over 50% are still on benefits and unable to support themselves. As an example of cultural difference one refugee threw his wife and child onto the train track when he found out he wa snot getting what he wanted.

How many Kiwis would do that to their wife and child under any circumstance, it's not even like he was in fear of of them dying, just going to a refugee camp to be treated humanely. If he felt hopeless he should throw himself not his child. Their culture is just so different from ours!

Simon McElrea

- Thorndon
11:08 am Sunday 06 September 2015
I had no idea we were such a mean-spirited, small-minded, parochial bunch ... judging by the comments here, and the support for them, there are plenty of people begrudging of any government-led offer to help. Why, is beyond me. This is a wealthy nation by global standards, and we have plenty of room and capacity to offer desperate refugee families a safe haven.

There are far less prosperous nations that are doing far more - Jordan, take a bow. This government's response, and the public support for it, is pretty embarrassing. Somebody mentioned the term "media-driven". Take a close look at Hosking - he does a great job of provoking the kind of bigoted reactions coming to the surface here. But back to the point: yes, we can afford to take additional refugee families in, and yes, we should do it. Without hesitation.

Earl M

- Glen Innes
11:08 am Sunday 06 September 2015
I'm all in favour of doing something to help individual refugees. But what I want to see is some actual leadership from our political class; we need to start the discussion about how our way of life contributes to horrors such as these across the globe.

Whether the slavery of ColTan miners in DRC or children working in toxic computer waste in India or China or the "might as well be" slaves in factories throughout Asia producing cheap, and not so cheap toys, trinkets, garments, shoes and other products that we have been buying with ever more debt for the last 15 years or so.

The flood of refugees into Europe only matters because it has nastily disrupted the privileged lives of those who have benefited from the disruption and corruption of their home nations. The victims are now coming to collect the debt and the present horror is only the down payment of what is to come.

Lets have that conversation shall we? Fat chance.

Graham

- Howick
11:07 am Sunday 06 September 2015
This is what the media does best. Perhaps some in the media should start showing pictures of the results of mass immigration/refugees, both legal and illegal. The religiously run enclaves where ancient barbaric practices/beliefs are used to control the uneducated and illiterate unfortunates.

Forced marriages, female circumcision, honor killings, woman forced to cover up and not be educated, police and other services too scared to enter those enclaves, violent gangs roaming the streets/complexes, usually preaching some sort of religious text to justify their violence, riots because they do not get there way, witch doctors. The list is huge.

Why people compare these refugees, many actually economic migrants with those of WWII I will never know. They are not the same. WWII refugees came from a culture similar to the countries they were escaping to. These peoples culture and beliefs are at polar opposites to those of the wests. The other thing that galls me is they have reached safety, yet are rioting because they are not allowed to proceed to the country of their choice. Go figure.

Deja vu

- New Zealand
11:07 am Sunday 06 September 2015
The solution is clear - accept Christian refugees who have suffered intense persecution for many decades at the hands of their fellow citizens, to the extent they have almost been eradicated from the Middle East. This way we'd be showing compassion on those regarded as the lowest of the low in Muslim society, while helping those whose gratitude and willingness to fit in and make a positive contribution to NZ would be a given.

They, too, have desperate men, women and children, they also know extreme hardship and have been driven out of their towns and lands just for being Christian. This has been going on a very long time and yet the world has yawned. I quote from The Guardian of April 2015: 'Christianity is under siege in the very place where it was born.

Hundreds of thousands of Christians have fled Iraq and Syria in the face of Islamic extremism and conflict. After a six-week trip across the Middle East in which I met church leaders and embattled congregations, it is clear to me that Christianity is hanging by a thread, and may not survive in some places.

We have never been a Muslim country. We should give sanctuary to the ME's long-suffering Christians - a win-win situation.

ABC

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11:07 am Sunday 06 September 2015
I am an immigrant (got the residency on the basis of my merit) myself...I do feel the pain for the refugees from Syria and other War-torn countries. But what stops me from supporting the increase in the quota for refugees is - if you look at the history of all these extremist attacks majority of them were carried out by refugees.

The problem is that once they are granted refuge they (not every one of them but a very small percentage of them - which still is harmful) want everything their way and if not they resort to the armed attacks. Why don't they go to their fellow gulf nations and seek refuge? Isn't that the responsibility of those countries too? or rather first responsibility should lie with those countries.

Waldorf

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11:07 am Sunday 06 September 2015
Wrong. This situation has been caused by religion. The Shi'ites and Sunnis have had murderous hatred of each other for over a thousand years. ISIS, preceeded by Al Queda, preceeded by the Taliban, preceeded by the Afghan Mujahideen have seized the opportunity to create a new extremist religious nation provided by the power vacuum created in the failed attempt to overthrow Syria's dictatorship.

Mike

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11:06 am Sunday 06 September 2015
The sheer heartlessness in some of these comments almost beggars belief. Looking after our own doesn't preclude us from also taking some of the most vulnerable people in the world in. With the $26m being spent on a flag referendum that virtually no-one wants we could house and feed many. That many are using this as an opportunity to brand them as 'economic migrants', potential terrorists or using other anti-immigration rhetoric is sickening. I thought New Zealand was better than this.

MsAdis

- Franklin
11:06 am Sunday 06 September 2015
This is not about showing compassion. It is about making an informed and sensible decision for the sake of our country and those that should we take in refugees that they then dont end up homeless and seeking a benefit here.

John Key is damned either way - if he opens the doors to only a few, it doesnt make a dent on the thousands and he gets chastised for a 'knee jerk' decision.

If he does nothing he is "heartless', if we take in thousands we have not secured our country and we will deprive our own people who are already here of housing. Its a no win situation for the government - its not an enviable decision to make is it.

dick black

-
11:05 am Sunday 06 September 2015
they are fleeing a war zone - they ARE refugees

who are you to define their status based on their actions instead of what they are trying to escape?

Chris Eccles

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11:05 am Sunday 06 September 2015
Rachel Smalley and all other people who advocate the opening of NZ borders to refugees from predominately muslim countries need to listen to a lecture by Dr Bill Warner

Odette

- Kohimarama
11:05 am Sunday 06 September 2015
Actually Dave you're quite incorrect.
Our quota is allocated to us by the UN.
The UN tell us what their recommendation is. We have no right of reply on the refusal.

Dee Cee

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11:05 am Sunday 06 September 2015
It is easy to say we should help these people when one doesn't have to actually do anything. To put this into perspective, all those who say we should be doing something should be asking themselves if they would be prepared to let one of these family's live with them at their house whilst they get sorted with the paperwork etc. I doubt many would support the current call to do something if they had to actually had to do something.

This media frenzy is based upon a small number of selected images beamed around the world to suit the current news story.
Keep the quota and look after our own better.
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