New Zealand on Monday announced it will take 750 Syrian refugees over the next three years after coming under intense pressure to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Europe.
Immigration minister Michael Woodhouse said 150 places would be offered to Syrians under the government’s existing quota, and an extra 600 people from the war-torn country would be accepted through a special emergency intake.
New Zealand currently has an annual refugee quota of 750, which has not risen since 1987.
“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,” Woodhouse said.
The move represents an about-turn for the conservative government after Prime Minister John Key last week ruled out changing the refugee intake until next year.
But the public demanded action after images of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi’s tiny body washed up on a Turkish beach brought the human cost of the crisis into devastating focus.
The news comes just a day after neighbouring Australia, which has also come under pressure to do more said it intended to take more Syrian refugees but without upping its existing 2015-16 refugee quota of 13,750.
But in fresh comments Monday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott left the issue open, saying he would await advice from his minister for immigration, currently in Europe, before announcing the government’s final decision.