After the Second World War, immigrants displaced from their homelands in Europe arrived in New Zealand. These included hundreds of Polish children who had lost their parents, and others who had lost family members and needed support to settle in a new country. Most Polish migrants settled in or near Wellington, where they founded the Polish Association in 1948. Members saw themselves as an exile community hoping eventually to return to Poland. To preserve their language and customs they published a newsletter, Wiadomości Polskie, and ran Sunday schools to teach their children Polish. Other Polish associations were later formed around New Zealand.
National refugee organisations
In the early 21st century many organisations in different parts of the country cater to the needs of refugees generally or to particular refugee communities. The Refugee Council of New Zealand Inc. operates at a national level to provide advice and help to asylum-seekers and refugees, to influence strategic policy and to act as a lobby group for the implementation of the United Nations Convention on Refugees. It works closely with the United National Commissioner for Refugees, the New Zealand government and a variety of statutory and voluntary organisations.
Refugees are forced to relocate because of war, poverty or other trauma in their homeland. As a result, they often arrive in New Zealand with very few belongings or financial resources. Many have been traumatised by the circumstances that forced them to leave, and some have mental problems as a result. Refugee groups are often set up to deal with these and similar problems.
The main organisation providing mental health services to refugees is Refugees As Survivors New Zealand (RASNZ). As well as providing medical help, RASNZ has a team of community facilitators working with the Afghan, Burmese, Burundian, Iranian, Iraqi, Somalian and Sudanese communities. They run sport, road safety and other programmes to help refugees adjust to their new lives.
Ahmed Tani of Somalia says refugees from his country celebrate their homeland’s independence day in July with dancing in national costume and feasting. ‘In Somalia we eat camel stewed in water, but in New Zealand we eat lamb or goat. In my country a camel is also the most important gift for showing respect to another person, but here we have to give money instead.’1
Refugees may receive support from four regional refugee community groups – the Auckland Refugee Community Coalition, Hamilton Refugee Forum, ChangeMakers Refugee Forum (Wellington) and Canterbury Refugee Council. Each of these groups represents and provides support to specific refugee communities in its area. ChangeMakers, for example, represents the Afghani, Assyrian, Burmese, Cambodian, Eritrean, Ethiopian, Iraqi, Oromo, Somali, Rwandan, Sudanese, Ugandan and Zimbabwean communities in Wellington.
The four regional groups serve as liaison organisations between their local refugee communities and the government, consulting with the communities on the issues affecting them and helping them to understand official information. The regional bodies formed a National Refugee Network in 2010.
A variety of local groups provide support to refugees. Ahmed Tani is chairperson of the Canterbury Refugee Council, which represents the local Afghan, Bhutanese, Eritrean, Ethiopian and Kurdish refugee communities, as well as his own community from Somalia. Each of those communities has its own local association, which both deals with the social issues of resettling refugees and celebrates their language, culture and traditional festivals. This organisation operates a drop-in centre and works to provide a strong voice for refugees, locally and nationally.
Quotas for refugees
New Zealand is one of 26 countries involved in the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) resettlement programme. In the early 21st century, New Zealand’s annual refugee quota was 750. In the 2010s New Zealand accepted additional refugees from Syria in response to the civil war in that country. From 2020 the annual refugee quota will be doubled to 1500. All refugees entering New Zealand are referred by UNHCR and spend their first six weeks in the country at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre.