NZ must not let fear stand in the way of kindness


In the past two weeks, a former refugee family stepped into one of our churches. They were days away from the end of their short-term lease and had nowhere to go.

The rental market in Wellington was so tough, they said, in this season. Did we have anywhere they could stay? Even if it just was a single room, it would be better than outside.

In another of our churches, a mother with two children is desperate. Her partner, hoping to enter through the refugee family reunification process, lodged his application last December.

Immigration New Zealand has halted the processing of cases until our borders open, and his case sits stagnant in a backlog of cases that has no end date in sight.

At our local port, chaplains working with seafarers are in despair at the epidemic of loneliness, exclusion and mental health issues overwhelming the sailors they interact with.

Many crews orbiting New Zealand ports have already been on their ships for more than a year, three or four months beyond their contracts, and have no repatriation in sight to their home countries.

Unlike airline crews, seafarers from foreign ships are required to have 28 continuous days onboard without symptoms before they will be granted shore leave.

With most ships having no wi-fi, their only contact with home is often through welfare centres such as the Mission to Seafarers. With 90 per cent of New Zealand’s imports and exports​ arriving by ship, this group, who contribute significantly to our wellbeing, are forgotten and unloved.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, we have proved that we are a nation that is creative, kind, able to solve complex problems and work together for common good.

Yet since we eradicated community transmission, we have seen some disappointing responses emerge in our reaction to those who are seeking to enter our borders; not based on common good or kindness, but on fear.

Are we really going to turn our backs not even on those who orbit our borders, but on our own citizens, existing and new?

This fear is natural – we want to preserve the safe environment we worked hard for – but the drive for self-preservation is coming at a huge cost for so many vulnerable people.

The kindness we have exhibited as a nation over this year is only as good as our kindness to the most vulnerable.

As a response of gratitude to our team of 5 million, should we hunker down and become insular, or should we be generous with what we have? What is the appropriate response for gratitude?

Our Anglican family (often in partnership with many other national and local faith-based and secular organisations) is working both in front-line and advocacy spaces in this area.

One of the core tenets of our Christian faith, and of all major faiths, is strong teachings to love and embrace others, even those we don’t know or love.

We ask that the Government and public institutions embody the principles of kindness and compassion for which Aotearoa became globally known this year. For example:

  • Make a public re-commitment to our refugee quotas, within the limitations of current international logistics. The Red Cross has indicated that is well set up to receive people from refugee backgrounds in a quarantine situation in its Māngere centre.
  • Take a proactive stance in processing the applications of family reunification cases, rather than waiting until the border reopens to do so. In this way, families can have some certainty and can look forward in hope.
  • Make immediate funding available to enable the provision of the basic needs of forgotten seafarers.

Fear is not fair.

We are not asking our government or our citizens to take unnecessary risks.

But using our kindness, compassion and good systems and structures, we can make a huge difference to the lives of those marginalised both within our land, and standing at our gates.

We must not be afraid of countering the narrative that “we need to look after our own”.

We might be at the bottom of the world, but we are part of a global community, and we are blessed with an environment and infrastructure that can care well for the deep needs of others when together we think of creative solutions.

The contribution that refugee, migrant and seafaring communities make to our social and economic tapestry is clear, and we must not allow fear and self-interest stand in the way of the values of kindness and compassion.

  • Justin Duckworth is the Anglican Archbishop of Wellington. First published in Stuff. Republished with the permission of the author.


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