New Zealand to resume taking refugees a year after Covid border closure

This article is more than 2 months old

Thirty-five will arrive in February, with a total of 210 expected to enter by June; all will be required to quarantine for 14 days

New Zealand will allow refugees to re-enter the country, a year after borders were closed by coronavirus.
New Zealand will allow refugees to re-enter the country, a year after borders were closed by coronavirus. Photograph: Nigel Marple/Reuters
New Zealand will allow refugees to re-enter the country, a year after borders were closed by coronavirus. Photograph: Nigel Marple/Reuters
Reuters
Fri 5 Feb 2021 00.23 EST

New Zealand will start receiving refugees again this month, nearly a year after it shut its borders to stop the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, the government says.

A group of 35 refugees will arrive in February, with a total of about 210 refugees expected to have entered the country by 30 June, Immigration New Zealand and officials said on Friday.

“With health protocols in place and safe travel routes, we are ready to welcome small groups of refugee families as New Zealand residents to this country, to begin their new lives,” Fiona Whiteridge, general manager for refugee and migrant services at Immigration New Zealand, said in a statement.

All arrivals will have to complete a 14-day stay in government managed isolation facilities.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s government increased the country’s refugee intake during its first term from 1,000 people a year to 1,500, starting from July 2020. But arrivals were put on hold in March last year after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, except for a small number of priority emergency cases.

In January, Ardern said New Zealand and the world needed to return to some semblance of normality before she opened the country’s borders to foreign nationals, adding that “we can expect our borders to be impacted for much of this year”.

The prime minister shut the border in mid-March and said on Tuesday she would not open it again until New Zealanders were “vaccinated and protected” – a process that will not start for the general population until the middle of this year.

New Zealand’s early response to the pandemic has allowed the country to virtually eliminate Covid-19 domestically and avoid the high numbers of infections and deaths seen in many other nations.

It reported one new case at a quarantine facility on Friday, and no new cases in the community, taking the total number of active cases in the country to 62.

New Zealand has reported just 1,959 confirmed cases and 25 deaths from the coronavirus to date. It was ranked at the top of a recent COVID Performance Index of nearly 100 countries for its handling of the pandemic.