New Zealand: Beyond the Quota

Article excerpt

The New Zealand government accepts refugees with disabilities and has established structures and partnerships to facilitate their participation in society.

New Zealand's commitment to ensuring that refugees with a disability are not excluded from the country's refugee resettlement quota is longstanding. In accepting Asian refugees from Uganda in 1973, Labour Prime Minister Norman Kirk insisted that New Zealand's refugee intake include a significant proportion of 'handicapped' (the terminology has since changed) cases. Reporting Mr Kirk's announcement, the capital city's Evening Post newspaper wrote: "New Zealand should not say it wants only 'the best apples in the barrel'. He [Kirk] was sure that most New Zealanders would agree that these were the people who needed help most."

It was evident even then that injury and disease were all too often the consequence of dispossession and flight, and that compassion should not be limited to providing refuge for the young and able bodied only. New Zealand continued to accept refugees considered harder to settle on health and other grounds in the following decades and today refugees with special needs, who for whatever reasons - including medical - are considered harder to settle, continue to be accepted as part of New Zealand's annual refugee quota.

Quotas and commitments

New Zealand is party to both the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. More than 30,000 refugees have arrived since 1944, when refugees were first distinguished from other immigrants in official statistics. The government formalised its commitment to a set quota of refugees (which included people from each of the UNHCR's designated vulnerable categories) in 1987 when it established an annual quota of 800 refugees.

Currently the quota stands at 750 and is divided into three subcategories: Women at Risk (minimum 75 places), UNHCR Priority Protection (600 places including up to 300 for family reunification and 35 for emergency cases) and Medical/Disabled. This last has a maximum of 75 places available.

The Medical/Disabled subcategory is designed to accommodate refugees with medical, physical or social disabilities - factors which would normally place them outside the usual criteria for acceptance by resettlement countries. Generally, applicants under this category have a medical condition that cannot be treated in their country of refuge, and resettlement to New Zealand is considered life-saving or of such benefit that it will significantly improve their medical condition and well-being. Medical cases are referred for advice concerning the availability of suitable treatment in New Zealand. Feedback from these sources is taken into consideration in the decision-making process.

In cases where there is an apparent physical or psychological condition, full medical reports are provided by UNHCR for assessment by health authorities in New Zealand. The full disclosure of the condition and its effects is essential for planning purposes, facilitating an effective early warning process for health authorities to ensure they have time to plan appropriate and necessary treatment and support for those refugees arriving in New Zealand, while ensuring that New Zealand's relatively small (in world terms) publicly-funded medical system is not overwhelmed.

As with the Women at Risk category, the Medical/Disability category accounts for around 10% of the annual quota. The numbers in each category have varied over the years depending on the referral and acceptance rate of refugees in the other categories. If UNHCR does not refer enough cases to New Zealand for a particular category, then the numbers in other groups, such as protection or family reunion, may be increased accordingly. …