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Newsletters > Diversity Action Programme > Te Punanga: Refugee Focus > 2012 > February

Te Punanga: Refugee Focus

ISSN 1178-0940 February, 2012

News & Issues

Review of Migration and Settlement in 2011

The Human Rights Commission has published its annual review of developments in Migration and Settlement. The review is part of the annual race relations report Tūi Tūi Tuituiā: Race Relations in 2011.

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It notes that the implementation of the Immigration Act 2009 was reviewed, with input from government departments, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Immigration Bar, and refugee and migrant organisations. It also looks at efforts by organisations to develop strategies and frameworks to guide government policy and partnership with migrant and refugee communities. It highlights an increased focus on successful settlement and providing more support to migrants and refugees.

The review identifies two priorities for 2012:

  • Approve and begin to implement the New Zealand Refugee Resettlement Strategy
  •  Ensure international human rights treaty obligations are met in decision making by immigration staff.

The full race relations report will be released in early March to promote discussion in advance of Race Relations Day, 21 March. The report will be launched at the Auckland Town Hall, 9-10 am on 8 March with Mayor Len Brown and Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres.  Please RSVP by 24 February to Josie Maskell  DDI (09) 306 2655.

To view the review, and reviews of other areas released to date, visit the Commission's website.

Pamela May Anderson passed away in January. She was the long-time manager of the Refugee Research and Information Branch (RRIB) (Nicholson Library) – New Zealand’s only library dedicated to providing country of origin information for refugee and immigration decision making.

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Pamela started as a research librarian at the RRIB in August 2000, and in April 2003 became the manager. For nine years she has led a dedicated and highly skilled team of researchers who provided detailed information to the Refugee Status Branch, the Refugee Status Appeals Authority (and now the Immigration and Protection Tribunal of the Ministry of Justice), the Refugee Quota Branch, other branches of Immigration New Zealand, as well as to refugee lawyers and members of the public. As acting manager of the Refugee Division in 2009, Pamela became known and respected by refugee community leaders and other government and non-government agencies as a professional and hard working advocate for refugee issues. She regularly attended the country of origin working group in Geneva where she was New Zealand’s window to the world of international best practice for country of origin research. Pamela’s hard work and skills are acknowledged, as are the many contributions she made in her professional career.

For a long time the Human Rights Commission has raised concerns about undocumented children’s right to education. Therefore the Commission welcomed changes in the Immigration Act 2009 that meant it was no longer unlawful for schools to enrol children and young people who had no legal immigration status in New Zealand. 

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The Ministry of Education subsequently expanded the criteria for domestic students funded by the Ministry. This meant children who were ordinarily resident in New Zealand and had been living here unlawfully for six months with their parent/s or legal guardian/s could enrol as domestic students. Those changes were notified in the New Zealand Gazette on 2 December 2010 and advertised through a Ministry of Education Circular and information sheet for parents.

Once the new policy was implemented, individual cases emerged of students that fell outside this Ministry-approved category of domestic students. The Commission has had ongoing discussions with the Ministry about possible changes and is pleased to see the following significant improvements, published by the Ministry of Education in the New Zealand Gazette on 12 January 2012.

  • The first change is that the definition of long stay is no longer based on the period of time that the child has been living unlawfully in New Zealand. The period of time that the child has to have been in New Zealand to qualify for domestic student status will still be six months, but it will not matter whether they were in New Zealand lawfully or unlawfully during that six-month period.  The child will have to be unlawfully in New Zealand at the time of the application.
  • The second change that has been approved is that it will no longer be a requirement for the parents to be unlawfully in NZ at the time of application.  If the child is unlawfully in NZ at the time of the application (and living with a parent), it will no longer be relevant whether the parent is here lawfully or unlawfully.

The updated information for parents of children unlawfully in NZ, including the application form, is now available on the Ministry of Education website.

The Commission will continue to work with the Ministry of Education on any outstanding issues that emerge.

These changes reflect the clear policy intent, conveyed to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in January 2011, that the Government was enabling undocumented children to access state-funded compulsory education services (paragraph 27 NZ’s NZ's third & fourth periodic report (2008), page 13 written Government response (December 2010) to issues raised by the Committee). In its 19 January 2011 Concluding Observations the Committee stated that it "welcomes the legal guarantee of access to free education accorded to undocumented children” (paragraph 45).

The Bhutanese Refugee Resettlement Journey follows a group of Bhutanese refugees from camps in Nepal through to resettlement in New Zealand.

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The research involved three phases of data collection: interviews in refugee camps in Nepal prior to departure to New Zealand; follow-up interviews at the end of the orientation process at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre; and interviews in the community 18–20 months after the refugees’ arrival in New Zealand.

The findings show that the refugees had high expectations for a new life in New Zealand, but expected to have to work hard, improve their English and take advantage of educational opportunities on offer.

At the end of New Zealand’s six week orientation process at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre those interviewed felt well prepared to enter the community and were looking forward to getting to know their new home and community.

The research found that after living in New Zealand for 18 to 20 months, the Bhutanese were focussed on education as a pathway to employment, and were attending English language classes and some were enrolled in mainstream education.

Gaining employment is important to this group. After up to 18 years spent in a refugee camp in Nepal, they want to be independent, and do not want to rely on the Government for their day-to-day living. However, finding suitable employment is difficult, and many identified that they needed help to up-skill.

Overall the Bhutanese refugees are a highly motivated group, and are optimistic and excited about their future in New Zealand.

The Department of Labour is working with other agencies and non-government organisations on ways of improving refugees’ participation in the workforce and community, and this research will contribute to that work.

Find out more online about The Bhutanese Refugee Resettlement Journey or contact research@dol.govt.nz or visit their website.

The Refugee Council of New Zealand (RCNZ) is initiating a project in 2012 to research what happens to asylum seekers whose claims for refugee status are rejected by the Immigration and Protection Tribunal and who are subsequently deported by the New Zealand authorities. 

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It is expected that the research will be a collaborative venture with the Edmund Rice Foundation, and will be undertaken by senior law students from the University of Auckland volunteering with RCNZ.

The Edmund Rice Foundation research identified a number of specific cases in countries such as Australia where “failed asylum seekers” have been subsequently deported to home countries or other states and where they have subsequently been tortured and killed.  

“The importance of getting it right during the appeals process by decision-makers involves extremely high stakes, “says RCNZ Executive Committee spokesperson Gary E. Poole.”Getting it wrong, can spell the most tragic disaster for a deported asylum seeker if they are involuntarily returned to a country where they are detained by the authorities.” 

“In the ordinary domestic mainstream justice system, if a court or tribunal makes a wrong decision, innocent people can be convicted and rarely unjustly imprisoned, but there is at least scope for appeal and redress.  In that case, an injustice can be corrected and, to some extent, repaired.   But if a refugee status claim is rejected upon appeal, and that person is removed or deported from protection in New Zealand, the consequences can be unmitigated disaster involving torture and execution in some cases. In such an instance, a failed asylum claim can be tantamount to a death sentence. That’s the reality of their situation,” he said.

RCNZ says that it is unaware of any such specific cases involving New Zealand asylum claimants, but it has never been properly investigated or probed.  Modern internet and communications systems have led to some cases of very distressed deported asylum seekers contacting agencies in New Zealand in recent years, but these instances need to be documented.  Researchers overseas have followed the outcomes of deported asylum seekers and confirmed very serious cases of torture or execution of claimants whose cases had failed in countries in Europe, Canada and Australia. 

The law students assigned to the research project will be overseen by leading Barrister Debra Manning who recently joined the RCNZ Executive Committee.  “RCNZ is very pleased and grateful to have legal practitioners of the very high calibre of Debra Manning and Colin Henry on the Executive and for the invaluable assistance of the volunteer senior University of Auckland law students over the past year,” said  President, Dr N. Rasalingham.

For more information contact RCNZ Secretary Kailesh Thana.

A major national research project entitled “Refugee Family Reunification, Mental Health, and Resettlement Outcomes in Aotearoa New Zealand,” is completed and nearing publication for release at the end of February.

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The research, led by Chahyham Choummanivong, a registered clinical psychologist and Director of the RASNZ Research Unit, contributes new knowledge on how family reunfication is related to settlement.   

Chayham arrived in New Zealand as an 8 year old refugee from Laos.  She grew up in Hamilton and went on to complete post graduate degrees in clinical psychology and research methods. She had earlier carried out research on issues for refugee children and young people and is presently completing a Ph.D. at the University of Auckland. 

Family reunification is widely recognised as a vital issue for people from refugee backgrounds but relatively little research has been reported on its relation to mental health or resettlement outcomes.  A study has been carried out over the past year involving an initial l review of the international literature and a survey of  respondents from multiple refugee backgrounds with direct experience of the family reunification process in New Zealand. The research was conducted in Auckland, Wellington and Hamilton.

Research questions focused on the meaning of ‘family,’ the expectations versus actual experiences regarding the family reunification process in New Zealand, and on the perceived impacts of family reunification, or lack of it, on the resettlement process, and on health and wellbeing.

Participants reported on their experiences when family reunification was successful and when it was not, and on their experiences as consumers or applicants engaged with the immigration system. Potential  immediate applications,  as well as limitations of the study are discussed, as well as recommendations for future research. 

Some practical specific recommendations flowing from the direct consumer feedback of former refugees involved with family reunification applications  are presented for informing policy and fo ther consideration of policy and decision-makers. The publication is expected to be ready for release during the visit of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees later this month.  

Fore more information contact Joyce Wei Liu.

When Demissie Tadesse Diressie started work with Refugee Services Aotearoa New Zealand in May 2011 as the organisation’s new Principal Advisor on Refugee Health and Wellbeing, his first goal was to identify significant barriers for former refugees in New Zealand when it comes to accessing the nation’s healthcare system.

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Using his own experience as a general practitioner and Deputy Minister of Health in Ethiopia in combination with consultation with former refugees, Demissie has developed Refugee Services’ new health and wellbeing programme, and in December, Refugee Services received funding from J R McKenzie Trust and the Todd Foundation to implement the programme in the new year.

The goal of the programme is to enable refugees to have improved access to the healthcare system and develop their capacity to be in charge of their own health. “We all, including government, expect health outcomes for refugees that are equal to those of other New Zealanders,” says Demissie. “If this is our goal, then we have to recognise that former refugees are not starting out on equal ground and that it will take extra effort to achieve those equal outcomes.”

When former refugees first arrive in New Zealand, many suffer from health problems as a result of where they have been living. Their health issues are often exacerbated by the fact that many of them may have little health education or experience with very different healthcare systems.

“They get here and they face language barriers, a new and very complex health system, transportation issues, and much more,” says Demissie, “so it’s important for us to develop this new strategy for overcoming those challenges.”

Key focuses of the new programme are household health and educating parents as the primary producers of health in families. “We want to raise awareness about common and preventable public health problems including prevention and management of accidents and injuries, first aid, when to seek professional medical help, how to prevent communicable and non-communicable diseases, and so on,” says Demissie.

Now that the programme has received funding, the first steps will be to gather information about current health behaviour, create appropriate educational materials and develop the new community health worker role. “Community health workers will have significant contact with families in the early stages of their resettlement,” says Demissie. “They will impart the knowledge onto the families by visiting them, discussing issues and creating awareness. As culturally competent and responsive health promoters, they will also become an important bridge between former refugees and the public healthcare system.”

“One of the five key outcome areas in the New Zealand Refugee Resettlement Strategy is health and wellbeing, and we are very grateful to J R McKenzie Trust and the Todd Foundation for their support to put in place a programme to help communities improve their health statistics in this area,” says Refugee Services’ Chief Executive Heather Hayden. “We look forward to seeing an increase in immunisation coverage, reductions in avoidable hospitalisation, and many other positive indicators that show the programme is contributing to equitable health outcomes for former refugees.

“Ultimately, the success of the programme will depend on collaboration with our partners and stakeholders, especially the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Social Development, Regional Public Health, and practices who provide health services to former refugees. At the end of the day, this isn’t just important for members of the refugee community,” adds Heather. “This is important to New Zealand as a whole.”

Refugee Road Safety Action Programme

Funding of the award-winning RASNZ Refugee Road Safety Action Programme has been fully restored with a grant of $200,000 to allow its continuing operation for the next 5 years.

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The Refugee Road Safety Action Programme was created in 2004 by two former refugees, Dr Nyunt Naing and Dr Arif Saeid at the national Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre in Auckland. “We saw the urgent and huge need from our own experiences coming through Mangere, and from the strong feedback of all the many refugee communities,” said Dr Naing, who is now the health services director with the International Rescue Committee in the Thailand-Myanmar border region. 

“Refugees were not getting drivers training, licenses, or even basic road safety knowledge.  When new arrivals left Mangere, a number were buying cars and driving without any licenses, training or understanding of the Road Code,” said Dr Naing.  “There were serious public safety and legal issues arising at the time.  In addition to that, having no drivers licence or means of even obtaining a learners’ permit meant that transport was very difficult in settlement.  Families became isolated and further, it was very hard to obtain work.”

More than 3,500 new arrivals have successfully completed the course and graduated with learner’s licences over the past 7 years.  The course has also been available for Convention Refugees and Quota Refugees settled in the community.  Interpreters in more than 25 languages and the RASNZ Community Facilitators have administered the programme with a system that brings a result of more than 90% successful pass rate for learners licences.

The RASNZ programme won the national 2009 Road Safety Innovation and Achievement Award which was presented by the Minister of Transport at Parliament in Wellington.  Changes in funding priorities, however, from the Ministry of Transport meant resources were cut to the programme in July, 2011.

Dr Saeid said that the RASNZ CEO and Board made submissions to Government about the potential safety risks, and also showed the evaluation outcomes and evidence of its success,  and highlighted the needs, which resulted in a positive response.   “We appreciate that former refugees have been listened to and that the real need has been recognised by the government.   We are very grateful the Road Safety Trust stepped in to assist, “said Dr Saeid.

The Road Safety Action Programme will now resume from the coming intakes during 2012 and again become fully operational.

From 30 January to 2 February, a group of young refugee community leaders from the Waikato picked up shovels, helped clean areas in the eastern suburbs and visited affected families with food and gifts to show their support.

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The young community leaders range in age from 16 to 26 and are originally from Somalia, Djibouti, Afghanistan and Colombia.

For Sabira Nouri, who came to New Zealand as a refugee with her family when she was 15, one of the most rewarding aspects of the trip was the opportunity to meet and listen to the stories of people who have been affected by the quake. “Seeing what they’ve been through for the past 18 months and hearing their stories have been very interesting,” says Sabira. “What you hear on the news is so different from what you hear from the local people. It’s a completely different perspective.”

“We’re thrilled that these four young people are so keen to support Christchurch, but we’re not at all surprised,” says Refugee Services’ Chief Executive Heather Hayden. “There have been so many instances of former refugees reaching out in the wake of the disaster, from all over the country. Refugee communities have expressed a deep sense of belonging to the New Zealand community and have shown support financially, emotionally, and physically.”

“I wasn’t born here, but I’m a New Zealand citizen now and I want to help my community,” says Sabira. “What happened in Christchurch affects all of us, and I wanted to be part of providing help. We may not be able to make a huge difference, but even putting a smile on the face of someone who’s been going through this tough time is still something.”

“It’s fantastic that a group of young people from the Waikato want to give their time and energy to support the Christchurch community,” says Rachel O’Connor, Refugee Services’ Hamilton Manager. “We are very grateful to Trust Waikato, whose support made the trip possible and who have been so encouraging right from the start. We couldn’t have done it without them. Not only was this a bit of help for Christchurch, but it also helped develop leadership skills in our own Waikato youth, which will ultimately build a stronger community.”

Migrants get help in starting new life

Asking for help can be hard but it’s even more difficult for migrants settling in a new country. Settlement Support volunteers, working as mentors, can help people trying to forge a new life settle in to their new community.

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The Immigration New Zealand initiative aims to inform and support new people to New Zealand.

Manukau Settlement Support coordinator, Vimbai Mugadza says the mentor programme encourages local communities to help their neighbours to make the settlement journey easier.

The initiative has initially been rolled out in the Manukau East area. For more information or assistance please contact the Settlement Support office at Auckland Regional Migrant Services on 09 263 5490 or email ssnzmanukau@arms-mrc.org.nz.

An innovative project to encourage girls from refugee families in Manawatu to join Guiding has received $7500 funding from the Newman’s Own Foundation.

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The initiative developed from discussions about how the region could fulfil one of GirlGuiding New Zealand’s goals to encourage and support diversity within their membership and local community.

Regional Co-ordinator Kathy O’Neil says “the project is all about embracing diversity and ending isolation. All our girls benefit by experiencing and interacting with girls of a different culture, which expands their horizons and encourages understanding.”

The project has initially focussed on Bhutanese, Burmese and Congolese girls. The support from Newman’s Own Foundation has helped provide the girls with uniforms, a subsidy on fees, and funded the translation of essential information into the girls’ languages.

Future plans for the Refugee Integration Project in the Manawatu includes offering the opportunity to potential Brownies and Pippins (currently the girls belong to Guides and Rangers) as well as expanding to other nationalities.

An essential component to the long-term success of the project is the growing partnership with Refugee Services.

For many members of Palmerston North’s Bhutanese community, last November’s election wasn’t just their first opportunity to vote in New Zealand, it was their first ever opportunity to vote.

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With support systems put in place by Refugee Services Community Development Worker Indra Dulal and help from electorate officers and community leaders, even those with physical challenges and language difficulties were able to exercise their right to vote for the first time in their lives.

“In my role, I have found that refugee background people have an interest in voting procedure,” says Indra, “but they didn’t have knowledge and experience because they hadn’t got the chance to vote in the land they were born. This was the chance they waited for so long, the first case they had to use their voting rights in their life.”

When he started noticing that many of the community members were feeling frustrated and unhappy about voting because of their language challenges, Indra decided to organise seminars with interpreters to teach community members about the voting system in New Zealand. He also coordinated community support volunteers to make the actual voting process less stressful and help new voters feel confident.

“I attended the voting briefing organised by Indra where I understood the importance of voting procedure in New Zealand,” says Naina Neupane, one of the first time voters from the Bhutanese community. “The meeting had an interpreter, so it was easy for us to understand the process of voting so we can elect the candidate we think is the right one. On voting day I got support from the community volunteer for the translation because I can’t read English clearly. Only with the help of the community support volunteer could I understand what is written on the orange and purple paper, and I made the decision myself.  For me it was very essential to have the community support member to vote.”

“I feel very happy to have the opportunity to vote,” says Bedanidhi Ghimire, another first time voter. “This is my first election to vote not only in New Zealand but of my life. I understand that we were from a very backward country where we were not allowed to exercise our basic rights. But in New Zealand I understand that everyone has got equal rights for everything. I got the chance to take part in the election in New Zealand, and I used my voting rights, which makes me feel excited.”

Chida Gautam one of the community volunteers who helped the new voters during the process, says “... this is the first time for the Bhutanese to exercise their voting rights in New Zealand. Supporting any one in a community is my matter of interest and responsibility. The 2011 election was a big event for me to involve all our community members in the election process and acknowledge that they hold equivalent status as any other New Zealanders.”

“Social participation is one of the most important elements of resettlement,” says Refugee Services Central Region Manager Kevin Petersen, “and it was fantastic to see so many members of the Bhutanese community participating in their new country. It would have been challenging for them to do this without the support systems Indra put in place, and we are keen to continue developing initiatives like this that will enable former refugees to participate and contribute to New Zealand.”

Future Events

“Yes Madam, Sir” movie fundraiser

ChangeMakers Refugee Forum presents for one night only the widely acclaimed “Yes Madam, Sir”, an inspiring documentary by award-winning Australian filmmaker, Megan Doneman.

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New Settler Water Safety Reference Group

WaterSafe Auckland will hold the New Settler Water Safety Reference Group on Wednesday 15 March from 10am -12pm at WaterSafe Auckland, 3 Arawa St, Grafton, Auckland.

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