New Zealand’s refugee population

Who is a refugee?

A refugee is: any person who, owing to a well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his/her nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of that country.

How do refugees enter New Zealand?

There are 3 ways in which refugees arrive in New Zealand:

1. Under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) mandated quota system (‘quota refugees’)

The quota for UNHCR-mandated refugees to enter New Zealand is set annually by Cabinet. Currently the quota is set at 750 per year. Quota refugees may arrive under the following categories:

  • Women at Risk
  • Protection
  • Medical/Disabled

On arrival, quota refugees spend a 6-week orientation period in the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre.

2. As refugee family-sponsored migrants under the Refugee Family Support Category – RFSC (‘family reunification’)

Those entering the country under this category are relatives of refugees already living in New Zealand. The objective of the RFSC is to help refugees living in New Zealand to settle by allowing the sponsorship of family members for residence in New Zealand who do not qualify for residence under any other immigration policy. The sponsored relatives may be refugees, but this is not requirement of the policy.

The application costs and the air travel are generally met by relatives who are themselves often struggling with their own resettlement costs and challenges. There are 300 residence places available under the RFSC annually.

3. As spontaneous refugees (‘asylum seekers’)

Asylum seekers usually seek refugee status on arrival at our borders, or when their temporary visa or permit expires. Claims for refugee status are confirmed or rejected by Immigration New Zealand depending on whether their circumstances meet the criteria set out in the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Those who are successful are then eligible to apply for permanent residence and later, New Zealand citizenship.

Where do refugees come from?

In the last two decades refugees have come Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Burma, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Syria, Kuwait, Tunisia, Algeria, China, Sri Lanka, Bosnia, former Yugoslavia, Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, the Sudan, Ethiopia, Burundi, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville), Sierra Leone and Columbia.

See the UNHCR’s Refworld website for a vast collection of reports relating to situations in countries of origin, policy documents and positions, and documents relating to international and national legal frameworks. The information has been carefully selected and compiled from UNHCR’s global network of field offices, governments, international, regional and non-governmental organisations, academic institutions and judicial bodies.

In this section

  • This page describes how each year New Zealand accepts and re-settles an annual quota of UNHCR mandated refugees, determines claims for asylum seekers and contributes to and influences international initiatives to resolve refugee issues. Read more
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