How can New Zealand best support refugees?

Headlines, Taking issue — By on May 26, 2016 11:07 am

Helen Borne asked three of our academics for their opinions.

Responding to the refugee crisis

As the world stands witness to the highest numbers of forced migrants since World War II, the Government and people of New Zealand have an important role in responding to this current crisis. New Zealand is recognised internationally for its refugee settlement programme. However, our annual refugee quota has not been increased from 750 people for nearly 30 years. We lag behind many other countries in terms of the number of refugees we resettle on a per capita basis (less than 1 person per 1000) placing us about 90th in the world. Over the last several months there have been days when more than 10,000 forced migrants have crossed into Europe – the equivalent number of refugees that New Zealand has settled over ten years.

It is time New Zealand increased its annual refugee quota to show leadership and solidarity as an international player and global partner in addressing people’s lived experiences of persecution and injustice. As a country we were celebrated internationally as a beacon for human rights for resettling 150 Afghan asylum seekers in 2001. Many of these people and others who have sought asylum are now contributing meaningfully to New Zealand society.

There are multiple ways you can get involved. Volunteer with Red Cross, English Language Partners and various other organisations to welcome a newly arrived refugee background family and help them settle into New Zealand. Hire them for a job. Get to know some of our newest arrivals in your school or community – a sense of belonging is central to successful settlement. Donate your time, expertise and/or resources. And write to your local minister about your concerns.

Alongside the everyday commitments from the people of New Zealand to ensure its newest arrivals are able to make our country home, the New Zealand Government should show leadership by doubling the refugee quota and resourcing the sector accordingly. There is not one magic solution to the protracted situation in Syria and the many other places where people are forcibly displaced. However, to argue that we cannot take more refugees or that New Zealand has enough problems of its own are misguided critiques. We can make a difference and it is about establishing our priorities as a country.

Dr Jay Marlowe
Associate Professor
Associate Dean (PBRF)
School of Counselling,
Human Services and Social Work
Faculty of Education and Social Work

Jay is a recent recipient of a Marsden grant. His research focuses on how resettled refugees practise transnational family and friendship through digital media.

Changing the conversation

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that there are currently around 60 million people worldwide who have been forcibly displaced from their homes. In response to this situation, New Zealand is in the midst of a national discussion about whether we should raise the number of refugees we accept each year from 750 to 1500. It is an important conversation and the compassion behind the drive to raise the number of refugees we accept is admirable. But is this the conversation we should be having?

Under international law, the term “refugee” applies only to a small subset of people who have been forcibly displaced. It excludes people who have been forced to flee their homes because of natural disasters, many wars, famine, climate change and extreme poverty. It also excludes those who are internally displaced within their home countries. We are part of an international system that traps tens of millions of people in legal limbo with no hope of accessing refugee status or other forms of protection.

So what could New Zealand be doing? One option is to start a conversation with other countries about how we can move towards a borderless world. A borderless world is not necessarily a world where everyone is free to move between countries without regard for security and customs checks. Nor is it necessarily a world where everyone has full citizenship rights in all other countries. Rather, it looks more like a world where the relationship that exists between New Zealand and Australia — where citizens can move between states and stay with relative ease — is expanded and developed around the world. This would provide those fleeing their homes with the ability to access safety and rebuild their lives. It would also, incidentally, enhance the global economy.

A borderless world is not something that is uncomplicated or that can be implemented overnight. It will take years of negotiations and will develop in a slow, piecemeal way. Until we start moving towards such a world though, we will remain be part of an international system that condemns millions of people to lives of permanent displacement.

Dr Anna Hood
Faculty of Law

Anna’s research focuses on international law and security issues. She teaches Immigration and Refugee Law.

Arts, creativity and cultural displacement

One month ago I was in central Finland observing arts workshops in a residence for asylum seekers. This particular residence housed more than 50 men, mostly from Iraq and Syria.

The overt aim of the workshops was to teach Finnish language, using creative and embodied activities to engage and advance the language learning of the asylum seekers. The clear value of the workshops went well beyond language acquisition however, as the men (who had been mostly listless and clustered in small groups in corners of the residence) became deeply animated, excited about being “in the moment” and working creatively together. The value of such a communal and creative experience is harder to measure and report on than language acquisition. It can therefore be lost when designing and resourcing mechanisms for addressing the influx of refugees to a new location.

So how might such microcosmic moments from an arts workshop be recognised and amplified, to support refugees resettling within New Zealand?

From my experiences teaching arts in refugee camps across the Middle East, reaching such intercultural moments of creative expression can involve much negotiation. They can follow the sensitising moments, when individuals are navigating the expectations and boundaries of the new group of people that surround them. They come after the moments of representing identity, when individuals are revealing who they are, where they come from, and what that means to them. Ultimately, such intercultural creative moments only emerge once people start to collaboratively create small arts or design products, then sit back and smile together at their creations. It is in such moments that newly mixed groups co-construct their identities and values, figure out what sort of creativity is valued in this shared context, and confidently understand how they might contribute to it and benefit from it. In doing so they let themselves move from being simply the learners and the carriers of a culture, to being the cocreators of a culture.

To more effectively support such moments of creative self-actualisation and cultural co-construction, the New Zealand Government would need to invest more in non-formal arts education through programmes such as Creative New Zealand’s Creative Communities Scheme. Within formal education, the Ministry of Education may more effectively engage arts within the curriculum to support acculturation, in alignment with UNESCO goals towards Education for Sustainable Development. In these ways, the applied use of arts may help refugees more effectively move from feeling isolated, to tolerated, to integrated, to celebrated, in New Zealand.

Associate Professor Nicholas Rowe
Dance Studies, Associate Dean
(Postgraduate Engagement)
National Institute of Creative Arts and Industries
Associate Investigator, ArtsEqual,
Academy of Finland

From 2000-2008 Nicholas resided in the Occupied Palestinian Territories working in refugee camps on dance projects with local artists. He has published extensively on education and dance in diverse cultural contexts.

What do you think?

Let us know in the comments below.

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  1. Sheena Simpson says:

    I would like to see NZ increase the intake of refugee/asylum seekers even if it means tightening up the restrictions on other migrants to reduce pressure on the housing crisis.

  2. Shona Pink-Martin says:

    I am more than just a little perturbed at articles by Drs Jay Marlowe, Anna Hood and Assoc. Prof Nicholas Rowe after the country’s “encounter” last month with New Plymouth’s Mayor Andrew Judd, as a self-confessed “recovering racist”. Additionally, in the couple of pages of “Ingenio” following, their comment, “Insights from Prison”, should surely stop us in our tracks enough to remind us of the appalling statistics for Maori across the board to include health, education, economics, crime etc., etc., etc. Who CARES about the “Global Economy” when we don’t even know how to properly deal with the increasing number of homeless lining the streets of Auckland’s CBD? “Show leadership and solidarity as an international player and global partner in addressing people’s lived experiences of persecution and injustice”? When Tracey MacIntosh speaks about women in our prisons asking how it is possible that she has never been hit by a man, how much closer to “people’s lived experiences of persecution and injustice” do we have to be before we actually register with what is actually going on in own back-yards? When every Maori residing in God-zone is given equal access to everything – and I mean EVERYTHING… which comprises the potential for a “flourishing” human-being, then…and only then…let’s talk about raising our annual refugee quota TOGETHER…with a nation full of healthy, happy and flourishing Maori households to capably assist with any intake of other indigenous groups from around the world fleeing persecution and death.

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