New Zealand resumes refugee intake as COVID-19 fears ease

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New Zealand said on Friday it will start receiving refugees again this month, nearly a year after it shut its borders to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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A group of 35 refugees will arrive in February, with about 210 refugees expected to enter the country by June 30, Immigration New Zealand and officials said.

“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.

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 of COVID-19 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.

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