Stepping Up – New Zealand’s Refugee Response

August 1, 2015

Queenstowner Lucia Dore’s documentary “Stepping Up” formed the springboard of the night’s investigation of New Zealand’s policy and treatment of refugees.

New Zealand’s quota of 750 refugees a year, unchanged in 25 years, puts us at 90th on the world league table. We are one of only 26 countries worldwide that has signed the UN Refugee Resettlement Programme, giving a clear pathway from arrival to settlement.

Afghan refugee Gul Agha Alizadah, son of one of the hundreds of Tampa refugees accepted by New Zealand, gave his family’s story “of hope and fear”. As a Hazari, he was part of an ethnic minority that had suffered “relentless discrimination” in Afghanistan since the 1800s.

Gul can still remember his dad, threatened by the Taliban, “disappearing” when he was eight years old. His shipload was spurned by Australian PM John Howard, sent to the Nauru detention camp and finally accepted by Prime Minister Helen Clark. Three years later, his father was able to sponsor his family to New Zealand.

Gul described how many of the children of Tampa refugees were now active members of the New Zealand community – helping with the Christchurch rebuild, setting up companies, nursing, being selected for the Youth Parliament and running community events.

His message? “We were given hope, a future and refuge by New Zealand when no one else wanted us and we are now determined to make a future for ourselves and give back to our community and give that hope that was given to us.”

Amnesty International NZ campaign manager Mo Farrell said they were calling for a doubling of the refugee quota. “The problem is global and it’s huge.” Lebanon had accepted 1 million Syrian refugees and Norway 2000 – two countries with similar populations to New Zealand.

She pointed out family reunification was not funded by the government, refugees had to pay for it themselves, and that numbers accepted under this had dropped. Mangere Resettlement Centre had been upgraded, so could accept more refugees.

Gul’s sister Nida said one way New Zealand could improve its refugees experience once in New Zealand was to provide more interpreters for the health system “where largely the problems are dismissed” through lack of understanding.