NZ to take 600 Syrian refugees on top of quota – at a cost of $48.8m

Price tag put at $50m. Budget includes SIS checks.

UPDATE: New Zealand will take 750 Syrian refugees over the next two and half years, immigration minister Michael Woodhouse says.

Of the 750 places, 600 will be by way of a special emergency intake above New Zealand’s annual refugee quota of 750, and 150 places will be offered within the quota.

The cost of the additional places is estimated at $48.8 million over two and a half years, Mr Woodhouse says.

That works out to around $81,000 for each of the 600 refugees allowed in under the emergency placement. That budget includes relocation, education, English language course, accommodation and SIS security check costs.

The government has also allocated $4.5 million more in humanitarian aid for displaced Syrians - taking its total aid to $20 million.

“Like most New Zealanders, the government is very concerned at the humanitarian crisis now unfolding in Syria and Europe that has visibly worsened in recent times,” Mr Woodhouse says.

“That’s why we will dedicate 150 places for Syrians within the existing 2015/16 annual quota of 750.  On top of that we’ll take in another 100 Syrians in this financial year, and a further 500 over the next two financial years  - 2016/17 and 2017/18." 

Immigration NZ (INZ) specifically carries out its own security checks alongside SIS checks, biometric checks and health assessments, Mr Woodhouse says.

INZ will undertake an initial mission to Lebanon in October and another in December for the current year.  The first 100 selected for resettlement will arrive in New Zealand in three groups – anticipated to be January, March and May 2016.

The move could rile conservatives who favoured no emergency intake, but is still shy of a call by Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy and the Labour Party to double New Zealand's quota. 

The Green Party is still pushing for an increase in the quota of 1000 a year, while a Syrian Solidarity spokesman has called for NZ to take on 10,000 Syrian refugees.

EARLIER: Prime Minister John Key has confirmed New Zealand will take an emergency intake of refugees.

He will confirm the number at his post-cabinet press conference this afternoon but over the weekend a UN refugee agency spokeswoman Ariane Rummery appeared to gazump the prime minister, saying New Zealand had agreed to an emergency intake of 100 Syrian refugees.

The weekend also saw Race Relations Commissioner Susan Devoy call on the government to double its annual refugee total of 750.

Mr Key said no decision would be made on that point until the middle of 2016, when the next three-yearly review of New Zealand’s quota is next up for review.

“What we are going to do is over and above the 750 refugees we take annually. There will be a special allocation made for Syrians and we’ll announce that today,” Mr Key said.

“That will have quite a significant impact, we think. It will be spread over two or three years,” he said.

“We did it in 1999 for Kosovo [when New Zealand took an emergency intake of 410 refugees]. It will be hundreds, not thousands.”

Mr Key noted the situation in Britain, where Prime Minister David Cameron agreed over the weekend to take thousands more Syrian refugees, and that “Australians are talking about it.” At a Sunday afternoon press conference, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said his government was likely to take an influx of Syrian refugees but that they would fall within the existing quota.

Mr Key said any increase in New Zealand’s quota would strain resources under current funding.

“The advice we’ve had from officials is that we’re pushing the envelope in terms of things like language services, housing, capacity to cope with all of these things,” he said.

He added that “Many people pouring out of Syria at the moment mostly want to go back. At the moment they’re fleeing from ISIL [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant].”

Part of the answer was to increase funding for education and other services in refugee camps so people could return when the time was right without too much interruption to their lives.

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