Following on from our Refugee Resettlement event last year, for our fifth 2023 Te Whanganui-a-Tara event we hosted a panel focusing on life in Aotearoa post refugee resettlement. This important kōrero was facilitated by Phil Pithyou. Phil was joined by our insightful speakers Batool Arif and Kodrean Eashae.
Kodrean came to Aotearoa to join his family in 2018 as part of the family reunification process. Iraq born Assyrian, Kodrean’s family were forced to escape the violence against the Assyrian community in Iraq. Born in Pakistan as part of the Hazara community, Batool arrived in Aotearoa in 2013 with her 2-year-old daughter, following her husband who had entered New Zealand as an asylum seeker. As the occurrence of suicide attacks and target killings became more frequent, Batool and her husband made the brave choice to leave their entire lives behind in search of safety.
While every refugee’s journey is unique, many share similar experiences - having to flee their countries and homes, where environments are unstable and rampant violence constantly threatens the lives of individuals and their loved ones.
They have a common goal of achieving safety but in doing so lose years of their life and must leave everything behind: the land that was their home, their family, their friends, their connections, and their careers.
Our panel explained there is a misconception of lumping refugees and migrants into one category when their experience differs considerably. Refugees are forced to flee and often have no certainty of where they will end up, their only goal is anywhere but where they were fleeing from. They become stripped of everything and often must lose contact with their loved ones, as staying in contact can be detrimental to those left behind.
Making the journey across the world and leaving their homes and everything they know is only the onset of their journey - post arriving in New Zealand their next journey begins. It should be emphasised these are their individual stories and doesn’t necessarily mirror the experience of other refugee community members, especially those who spent 20-30 years in refugee camps before resettling in Aotearoa.
Having already obtained university education and being able to speak English, both Batool and Kodrean acknowledged they were in a ‘privileged’ position compared to many other refugees. Nonetheless the transition to New Zealand society was far from easy. Despite their qualifications, both struggled to find meaningful work with lack of NZ experience often being referenced as the reason. Kodrean explained how he spent the first year volunteering and doing jobs he was well overqualified for as a means of survival. His first week here he took active steps to learn more about New Zealand, visiting a marae to learn about the indigenous culture and completing a tour of parliament to understand the political system. Despite all this mahi, it took over a year before someone partially opened the door to him and gave him the opportunity of meaningful work.
Batool explained how our current resettlement process is discriminatory against how refugees arrive and settle. As an asylum seeker they are not included in the resettlement support and are left to navigate the system themselves. There is no single platform to support setting up in this completely different society, they are left to only learn from their own experiences. She expressed her appreciation for the sense of safety she feels in New Zealand, being allowed freedom of speech and being able to challenge the status quo. However, she described how integrating into New Zealand society is an extremely challenging and isolating experience as she found it difficult to connect with New Zealand born kiwis and it took over 8 months to realise her own ethnic community existed in Wellington.
The challenges our speakers shared with us experienced by the refugee community are not aberrant, these are systematic.
Irrelevant of how good intentioned they may be, the current policies regarding refugee resettlement are discriminatory. It is therefore crucial for those with lived experiences to be included in decision making as decision makers are often disconnected from the ground.
Kodrean highlighted how solutions implemented are often based on what was successful with other groups or previous refugees, however the refugee community is unique, and the refugee experience has changed. As society develops, the needs of refugees in Aotearoa in 2023 have changed from the needs of refugees resettling in 1980. Our systems need to better understand how to have those with lived experience involved and provide access to enable this. Without their influence our refugee community will continue to face the same challenges. It is Kaupapa of the whole house, not one party’s responsibility - for effective change to occur all parties need to be across the same issues of the refugee community. Batool also spoke of the importance of data - refugee communities have been settling in Aotearoa for decades and yet we have gathered very little data on their experiences. Without data how can a suitable resettlement process ever be designed?
Our speakers also touched on the subtle acts of exclusion they have experienced while establishing themselves in Aotearoa. While not overtly racist, countless times they have had experiences of exclusion due to their race and background. Our facilitator posed the question to the speakers “if diversity is being invited to the party and inclusion is being asked to dance, how often have you been asked to dance”. The answer: not enough.
The panel concluded with the panelists’ takeaway messages: Kodrean simply stated “be the change”, Batool discussed the importance of mindset, and how crucial it is to be open minded in order to connect. Change can be uncomfortable but one must take the time to connect with communities and hear their stories.
“Coming together is the beginning, keeping together is process, working together is success: - Henry Ford
How to take the Kaupapa forward
1. GROW AND SHARE YOUR KNOWLEDGE
There are several resources to continue expanding your knowledge about the resettlement journey refugees experience upon arrival in Aotearoa. Continue exploring this space and share your knowledge with friends and whānau.
Stuff article “Awful to be there” by Abdul Samad Haidari who has just resettled in New Zealand in 2023 and shares his story about the notorious emergency housing. https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/131732465/awful-to-be-there-former-refugees-struggle-in -notorious-emergency-housing
After the Tampa - From Afghanistan to New Zealand by Abbas Nazari
Voice of Aroha, presented by our speaker Kodrean, aims to amplify the voices of former refugee communities and small minority groups.
#PassTheMic Podcast Spotlighting the lives of people from migrant and former refugee backgrounds living in Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland) one conversation at a time.
Together We Make a Nation - an interactive online documentary which follows four women of refugee backgrounds living in New Zealand. . Together We Make A Nation can be viewed at www.togetherwmn.nz
2. VOLUNTEER TIME AND EXPERTISE
Volunteer with Change Makers Resettlement Reform
Refugee Support Volunteer - Red Cross Pathways to settlement programme
Refugee Driver Training Mentors - The Open Road Programme
Check out Volunteer Wellington: Te Puna Tautoko, they advocate for and champion volunteering in the Wellington region and have a number of volunteer opportunities to support former refugee
This could be either good-quality household items or a financial contribution to any organisation that supports former refugees. Here are a few organisations which are established to support the refugee community and improve the newcomer settlement process:
New Zealand Red Cross
RASNZ - Refugee health and wellbeing
Change Makers Resettlement Forum
4. SUPPORT SOCIAL ENTERPRISES AFFILIATED WITH REFUGEE COMMUNITIES
There are various businesses throughout Aotearoa which are owned and operated by former refugees or focus on employing individuals with refugee and migrant backgrounds. Contribute by providing support to these social enterprises [others not listed]:
Momo said - specialises in making handcrafted Nepalese Dumplings.
Mamia’s Ethiopian Sauce
Roti Variety (Lower Hutt)
La La Zar - Catering company
Sri Mahkota Malaysian Restaurant
HanSan Vietnamese Restaurant
Wise Collective Catering
5. MOST IMPORTANTLY: ENGAGE
Take the time to get to know others, learn their story and ask them what you can do to help and be an advocate for the refugee community