He maungārongo ki te whenua he whakaaro pai ki ngā tāngata katoa

In the last six months there has been a lot of discussion over whether New Zealand is doing its fair share for the current refugee crisis. The world has more refugees than ever before but New Zealand hasn’t increased its quota for three decades.

Where do we as tāngata whenua stand on this issue and why do we stand there?

Many Māori have a hongi-gone-wrong story, someone kissing you on the nose, or an unintentional head butt.

Every other Sunday we take our kids to Baha’i children’s classes (my significant other is a Baha’i) – the student make up is diverse with most if not all of the kids being speakers of languages other than English.

One day I was talking with one of the other parents, an organiser in the community, Rashid Laghai. Somehow we got talking about Māori customary greetings. Many Māori have a hongi-gone-wrong story, someone kissing you on the nose, or an unintentional head butt.

Rashid grew up in Iran. When he was a youth his parents needed to smuggle him out of the country. Baha’i were – and continue to be – persecuted in Iran.

Rashid told me that, “When you are a minority you are easily targeted they can blame you for things that you did not do. Ignorance can turn into hate.”

They told him he would be crossing the desert by ‘train’ into Pakistan. He was expecting the type with an engine and wheels instead it was a camel train. In the dead of night he left by ‘train’, with around 40 others travelling in groups. Only around 20 of them made it to Pakistan, the rest were caught. Rashid spent 2 years in Pakistan supported by the UN with others looking for a new place to live.

“Although I was a refugee in Pakistan with many of us living in crowded rooms – for me it was a blessing.”

Supported by the Baha’i community a few of them made it here. When they arrived a group of around 12 people were there to welcome them – a mixture of Persian, Māori and Pākeha. One of the men went to greet him and moved in towards him head first. Rashid was confused and tried to dodge. The man grabbed him by the back of the head to line up his nose. Bulls eye. First hongi in Aotearoa.

“Refugees should learn about Māori culture directly from Māori as soon as they get here. It is not good to learn about people from secondhand sources like the media or from someone else. Māori culture is unique to here, you cannot get that anywhere else. I remember the first time I was welcomed onto a marae, it was beautiful.”

People arrive in this country by different means and with different stories behind them.

National borders open easier for those with a million bucks to blow into the Auckland property bubble. In places like Europe and the Americas those borders are thin lines on a map, legal fictions separating ‘them’ from ‘us’. I have empathy for the idea of a world without borders, where no one is prevented from moving because of where they are born, or because of race, class or economic resources, or because of any other barrier.

However our border is a vast ocean and we are the last bus stop before Antarctica. Getting here from the more populous places on the planet requires resources that many poor in the pocket do not have. Even proximity is sometimes not enough. It was and possibly still is easier for someone from the UK to immigrate to NZ than say for some of my Tongan whanaunga who come from right next door. The Dawn Raids are still in living memory of my community. It can take a lot of privilege to cross that great divide.

I hold the view that the criteria of who gets to come and stay would be better enhanced with Māori ideas like manaakitanga and whanaungatanga. Ideas that support the aspirations of tāngata whenua. Particularly those aspirations that ensure cleaner rivers a richer biodiversity and a respect of Indigenous Peoples.

I hold the view that the criteria of who gets to come and stay would be better enhanced with Māori ideas like manaakitanga and whanaungatanga.

 The mass migrations of the 19th century that closely followed the Land Wars resulted in the exponential theft of Māori land and resources meaning that many Māori, myself included, are skeptical about immigration processes. I do not feel the same way about refugees.

Those who have fled their country and have been found to be at serious risk of harm as a result of their political beliefs, race, nationality or social group should have our collective support. We should really be doing our bit.

In terms of refugees per head of population New Zealand lags well behind Australia. Yeah thats right Australia. You know what else they beat us in? Besides cricket that is. Signing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. NZ was one of the last countries in the world to sign. I know. How embarrassing.

All of the political parties (except National) have said that they would support an increase in the quota at some stage over the last year.

Remember Australia is the country that is currently trying to close Remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia. They also imprison asylum seekers in other people’s countries like Manus island in Papua Guinea and Nauru. There are children in these centres. A report on the children in these places, including Manus Island, reveal the despair and risks these children are facing.

Despite this they accept just over three times as many refugees per capita than New Zealand. Over the next twelve months Immigration and MFAT will consider what our quota should be for the 2016-19 timeframe. If there is no increase, like there has not been in 28 years, Australia’s growing quota will become four times as many per capita as New Zealand’s. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) ranks us around about 87th in the world per capita at hosting refugees.

After much lobbying, New Zealand got a seat at the big kids table, the UN Security Council. The Security Council has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. It is charged with diffusing international tensions, preventing conflicts between countries, and taking steps to end wars. Positioning oneself as a leader on international issues requires the rhetoric to be matched with action.

All of the political parties (except National) have said that they would support an increase in the quota at some stage over the last year. A private member’s bill that asks for the quota to increase from 750 to 1000 places has been put forward by the Green Party.

Where do our Māori MPs stand on this issue and why do they stand there?

Ask them.

After discussions at a recent public event, Teanau Tuiono was asked by Doing Our Bit to elaborate his thoughts on refugee resettlement. This reflection is a result of that discussion.

Teanau Tuiono

TeanauTuionoWho is Teanau Tuiono?

Sometimes they call him the space cowboy, sometimes they call him the gangster of love, sometimes they call him Maurice – which they shouldn’t, because using peoples names correctly is more respectful of their cultural heritage. Ngāpuhi, Ngāi Takoto, Atiu.

  • Ari

    Not much has changed in the 18 months since this was written 🙁 Hopefully the 2017 election will prove favourable for those who wish to see some more compassionate and progressive policies being implemented across the board, including for refugees <3 Kia Kaha

  • Mustafa Kemal

    Good blog. & long after the Land Wars the British were still being enticed to New Zealand with offers of free land and financial assistance. As a kid at school I recall new English classmates popping up on a regular basis, their families recently migrated from Britain, but we did not consider them foreigners – just kids with slightly posh accents who’d come from a place we didn’t consider foreign, because their citizens were everywhere around us, and for most of us that even included family members. Their language was our language, their culture our culture, their history our history. Everything we learnt in school was British, not one single thing about the Maori, and everything we watched on TV enforced Anglo-American culture. The Maori themselves were a strange minority to us, kids who clowned around and liked sports but didn’t take their studies too seriously. & the Pacific Islanders, with their brawny physiques and limited English, just seemed like they were from another planet,