Story: Migrant and refugee organisations
Page 3 – Refugee organisations
After the Second World War, immigrants displaced from their homelands in Europe arrived in New Zealand. These included numbers 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, and they founded the Polish Association in 1948. Members saw themselves as an exile community hoping eventually to return to an independent 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.
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 the communities to understand official information. The regional bodies are represented nationally by the National Refugee Network, formed in January 2010.
Ahmed Tani works with the Canterbury Refugee Council, representing the local Bhutanese, Afghan, Kurdish, Ethiopian and Eritrean refugee communities, and his own community from Somalia. He says that each of those communities has its own local association, dealing not only with the social issues of resettling refugees, but also celebrating their language, culture and traditional festivals.