It is really hard not to sympathise with calls for increasing the refugee quota. Seeing the pictures from the Mediterranean tugs at the heartstrings. But is increasing the refugee quota the best we can do?
I discussed the refugee situation with Peter Singer on Monday night at the Christchurch WORD festival. Allowing more immigration is one of the best humanitarian measures developed countries can implement: each migrant is far better off being able to move to places where they can live better lives, and their remittances home improve outcomes there too. But when countless numbers of Syrian refugees live in camps in Jordan, or in Lebanon, does New Zealand do better in spending money to bring a few hundred here and help them to settle in New Zealand, or in sending money to help improve conditions there? While New Zealand agonises over whether to allow a few hundred more refugees to come here, Lebanon has over two hundred refugees for every thousand Lebanese. They could use our help.
But many altruists are strongly motivated by wanting to help here. New Zealand’s churches have said they can support 1,200 refugees. Many others are similarly committed to helping here. How can we channel that altruism so it can be more effective? We could learn a bit, surprisingly enough, from Canada. There, community groups committing to sponsor a refugee who has passed the usual application guidelines are allowed to bring in an additional refugee. The sponsors cover the refugee’s housing costs, provide financial assistance through the first year (and potentially for up to five years), and help to ease the transition. Similarly, any group of five individuals making a similar commitment can apply to bring in an additional refugee.
The government should consider allowing such moves here. Rather than ignore communities that desperately want to help, the government could leverage that support to allow more refugees to come and to provide them with better settlement experiences. When comes the next refugee crisis, caring communities would then not have to waste time lobbying government to change the quota. They could instead rally their troops and see how much they could commit to helping more refugees to come here.
When people want to help, the government should not stand in their way.