After seeing first-hand what the Syrian civil war was doing to its people, Murdoch Stephens returned from Aleppo expecting to find New Zealand a world leader in extending a helping hand to refugees.
He was shocked to find that wasn’t the case. “I read a newspaper article that said New Zealand took only one fifth per capita of refugees compared to Australia. I looked into that and saw we hadn’t increased our refugee quota in 30 years.”
In 2013 Murdoch, a Wellington-based university lecturer, set up a voluntary campaign called ‘Doing Our Bit’ to push for a doubling of New Zealand’s refugee quota.
Last year the government announced the number of refugees New Zealand will accept would increase from 750 to 1000 each year by 2018. Murdoch insists the quota needs to double and is taking his message on the road in the lead-up to September’s general election.
He will be speaking in Tauranga on Friday, August 4 about the need to increase the quota, particularly in light of the current Syrian refugee crisis, and how New Zealand communities can help.
“If we consider ourselves a civilised country, we should be matching what other countries like Australia and Canada are doing,” says Murdoch. “It’s not about being a world leader; it’s about doing our fair share.”
Murdoch says the terrible thing is that people associate refugees with the very thing they are fleeing from.
“The same thing happened when Jewish people came here after WWII. We locked some of them up on an island because we worried they might be secret Nazis here to infiltrate the country. Because Syrians are fleeing Isis, people associate them with that war, rather than them trying to escape it.”
Murdoch believes refugees are treated well once they come to New Zealand.
“The government has some good resettlement strategies and the general public has been nothing but welcoming. The latest resettlement centre to open in Dunedin asked for 40 volunteers to help and it got 400 applications. It shows a huge amount of community support for helping people who just need the really basic things that most of us take for granted.”
Tauranga doesn’t have a refugee resettlement centre but Murdoch says people in Tauranga can help refugees by putting pressure on their local MPs to increase the quota.
“We’re asking people to approach politicians and ask them to support doubling the quota to 1500.”
Murdoch Stephens will be speaking at St George’s Anglican Church, 1 Church St, Gate Pa on Friday, August 4 from 6-8pm. Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy will MC the evening. Admission is free.
Find out more about the Doing Our Bit campaign online www.doingourbit.co.nz