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The Bhutanese Refugee Resettlement Journey Part 2: On-arrival


Resettlement of Bhutanese in New Zealand

In 2007, New Zealand became the first country to accept Bhutanese refugees for resettlement. In 2007/2008, 75 Bhutanese were accepted as part of the annual refugee quota. Most of those accepted were resettled in Palmerston North and Christchurch. In 2008/2009, a second intake of 195 Bhutanese refugees was included in New Zealand’s annual refugee quota. This intake was predominantly resettled in Palmerston North, Christchurch and Nelson.

These cities were chosen for resettlement because, in addition to having the availability and capability to resettle a new community, they were deemed to be a good fit in terms of their environment for the Bhutanese community and could offer a good resettlement foundation.

In 2009/2010, 176 Bhutanese were resettled in New Zealand and as of April 2011, a further 105 Bhutanese refugees have arrived. It is likely that Bhutanese refugees from camps in Nepal will continue to be accepted for resettlement in the future given that they remain in a protracted situation, and therefore a UNHCR focus for resettlement.

The Bhutanese are a new ethnic community to be resettled in New Zealand. Given their small numbers, they will continue to require large levels of support from a variety of service providers.

Background to the research project

The 2008 selection mission to Nepal was used as a unique opportunity to undertake research on this group of refugees. The aim of the Bhutanese Refugee Resettlement Research is to provide information about the pre-settlement hopes, expectations and experiences of the Bhutanese refugees, as well as their short-term settlement outcomes. This information will enable better support for the resettlement not only of this community, but of refugees generally.

There has been relatively little research on refugee resettlement in New Zealand. The notable exceptions are Refugee Voices: A journey towards resettlement (Department of Labour, 2004), which contains the findings from interviews with nearly 400 recent and established refugees, and the recently published New Land, New Life: Long-Term Settlement of Refugees in New Zealand (Department of Labour, 2011c) which is a preliminary report from the Quota Refugees Ten Years On programme of research.[5] However, this study of refugees before and after resettlement is unique both nationally and internationally. No other studies that systematically examined the expectations of refugees before resettlement and their short-term reactions after resettlement were found.

There are some studies of refugees after resettlement. These studies tend to focus on specific issues such as impacts on the health of refugee youth (Gifford et al, 2007), ongoing effects of violent refugee experiences after resettlement (Amone-P’Olak, 2007), changes in family structure (Currie, 2007), the challenges of integrating refugees into the workforce (Posiadlowski, 2007) or other specific aspects of third-country social or economic structure (Valtonen, 1998, 2004; Pottie et al, 2006; Spitzer, 2006; Beirens et al, 2007; VanderPlaat, 2007; Pressé and Thomson, 2008).

No substantial studies appear to explore these issues from the perspective of the refugees, before, during and after resettlement (Mitchell and Kisner, 2004). However, this is an important issue, as other researchers have pointed out. Gifford and colleagues demonstrate from their prospective study of a cohort of refugee youth resettled in Melbourne that important differences exist between studies that examine the importance of ‘meaning’ as made by individuals and studies that focus on the ‘measurement’ of indicators as decided by researchers (Gifford et al, 2007). There is limited understanding of how refugees’ own priorities and values may change between pre-arrival and settlement. This study takes account of these issues in its design. The substantive issues important in New Zealand policy and the provision of services for resettling refugees are addressed through a selection of topics and questions in a semi-structured interview.

Purpose of this research project

The findings of the Bhutanese Refugee Resettlement Research Project as a whole will help to:

Monitoring before- and after-settlement needs and outcomes for this cohort will inform the selection process and resettlement of refugees through the Refugee Quota Programme. Little such monitoring has been undertaken in the last two decades. The complexities of world events and resettlement needs require the Department of Labour to monitor its practices to ensure they are up to date and in the best interest of the communities who are to be resettled through the Refugee Quota Programme.

Structure of the research

The research involves three phases of data collection. The first phase involved 33 interviews that took place as part of New Zealand’s refugee mission to Nepal in October 2008 (see Department of Labour, 2011). Interviewees were asked about their background, expectations of resettlement, existing knowledge of New Zealand, their goals for life in New Zealand and expected settlement support needs both before departure and after arrival.

The second phase of the research (and focus of this report) involved a series of shorter follow-up interviews at the end of the orientation process at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre. These interviews were designed to provide immediate feedback and information to the Department of Labour. These interviews focused on specific aspects of the orientation programme with a particular focus on how it worked, how before and after departure expectations were met, and the refugees’ hopes for their life in New Zealand.

The third phase of research took place in the community, 12–18 months after the refugees’ arrival in New Zealand. These interviews focused on specific elements of settlement into New Zealand society.

Orientation training for resettlement

In 2008, 11 OECD and European Union countries (Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States) were committed to an annual quota of refugees. Of these countries, only three do not provide a pre-departure orientation programme (the Netherlands, New Zealand and Ireland). There is widespread agreement that refugee orientation programmes assist in the positive resettlement of refugees. Pre-departure cultural orientation reduces stress and anxiety by giving refugees an accurate picture of their resettlement country and helps to shape realistic expectations and attitudes towards their new community (Gray, 2008).

Commentators point out that refugees resettled in countries with different cultures, traditions and practices to their own can encounter problems adjusting to their new environment (Ekholm et al, 2005). This is usually for anyone lacking the necessary information and orientation required for such a move. Refugees accepted for resettlement often come straight out of refugee camps and sometimes have little, if any, knowledge of the societal and economic practices of Western countries.

Cultural orientation reduces these stress factors by presenting a realistic picture of what awaits the newcomers, providing them with coping mechanisms to deal with the unfamiliar, and by helping to shape attitudes towards life in the new community. Cultural orientation sessions help newcomers to become self-sufficient, contributing members of society (Gray, 2008).

Various countries conduct pre-departure cultural orientation training sessions in several ways. The United States, Australia, Canada, Finland and Norway subcontract pre-departure training to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), while other countries send their own delegations or use locally based diplomatic staff (Gray, 2008).

International Organization for Migration cultural training

IOM provides cultural orientation services to tens of thousands of participants every year from 30 countries of origin or transit. The three broad cultural orientation objectives of the IOM orientation are to:

Cultural orientation empowers participants to adapt more rapidly and successfully to the day-to-day demands of any new environment (Ekholm et al, 2005).

New Zealand cultural training

New Zealand focuses on on-arrival orientation but provides limited pre-departure information in a booklet in the refugees’ language. This booklet overviews basic information about New Zealand society and services available to quota refugees on arrival to the country. Where possible, the interviewing officer from the Department of Labour explains the content of the booklet to the refugees during the resettlement interview.

Once the Department of Labour has approved the refugees and allocated them to an intake for travel to New Zealand (which could be up to a year later), the refugees also attend a briefing with IOM. This briefing focuses on preparing the refugees for their travel to New Zealand, for example information about air travel, using toilets on the plane and so on.

Dutch cultural training

As in New Zealand, the Netherlands emphasises on-arrival orientation rather than pre-departure orientation. However, it takes a different approach to orientation procedures on arrival.

After arriving in the Netherlands, refugees are taken to a central reception centre where they are responsible for their own housekeeping, such as cooking and washing, and receive a weekly allowance to cover personal expenses. They receive all the urgent medical treatment they need, are registered for health insurance and are entitled to the same medical facilities and treatment as Dutch citizens. They also have access to recreational and educational facilities and to primary and secondary education for children (usually at local schools near the reception centre).

Refugees remain in the reception centre for 3–6 months or longer. Moving to a house of their own is subject to the availability of (social) housing in one of the Netherlands’ 500 municipalities. During their stay in the reception centre, refugees are offered a short introduction programme that includes Dutch lessons, information and a course about participating in Dutch society. All refugees are offered tailor-made case management to help their integration into the Netherlands. Refugees register with the police to receive photo card identity and with the municipality to receive a civil service number in order to get access to municipality housing, social security and employment (Gray, 2008).

Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre

All refugees granted residence in New Zealand under the Refugee Quota Programme spend their first 6 weeks at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre in Auckland. Immigration New Zealand from the Department of Labour manages the centre.

The centre can accommodate about 125 refugees from multiple ethnic groups at any one time. Facilities include accommodation blocks, an early childhood learning centre, classrooms, medical and dental clinics, a mental health clinic, and general living and recreation areas.

Orientation programmes are conducted in the refugees’ language and provide general information about life in New Zealand, including an English language component and adult education, early childhood learning and care, special education, and primary and secondary classes. The orientation programme also aims to build the basic social and coping skills required for refugees’ new life in New Zealand. The Auckland University of Technology coordinates the English language and education components of the programme.

During the 6 weeks at Mangere, refugees also undergo comprehensive medical and dental check-ups and, when needed, trauma counselling. Therapeutic activities are also provided for adults and children.

All refugees are given needs assessments in terms of education, employment experience, housing and social needs. All adult refugees are set up with a bank account and an Inland Revenue number and are enrolled with Work and Income New Zealand, which provides each family with a resettlement grant of up to $1,200 and income support in the form of a benefit paid directly in to their bank account.

Housing New Zealand and Refugee Services work together to locate appropriate housing for refugees in the community either through Housing New Zealand stock or the private rental market.

The Department of Labour also funds Refugee Services to provide social services and coordinate the training of volunteer support workers to help refugees with ongoing settlement needs and with accessing mainstream services on arrival in the community. Refugees are provided with this support on a case-by-case basis in the community for up to a year after they have left the centre.

Post-Mangere orientation programme interviews


At the time of the interviews, 18 of the 33 Bhutanese initially interviewed in Nepal had arrived in New Zealand. All 18 consented to participate in follow-up interviews after the Mangere orientation programme.

Those interviewed were aged 18–77 years and had a variety of educational backgrounds from being university educated to having no formal education. They also had varying degrees of skills and occupations, ranging from teachers to having no skills or occupation. Most of those interviewed had spent 16 years in the refugee camps in Nepal, although this ranged from 14 to 17 years. Consequently, some of the younger interviewees had no memory of life outside a refugee camp.

Interviews took place 6 weeks after the refugees arrived in New Zealand at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre before they were resettled in the community.

Unless otherwise specified, quotes throughout this report have been broken into the three age classifications: ‘Adult’ male and female, which relates to ages 20 to 35; ‘Middle-aged’ male and female which relates to those aged 35-50 years; and, ‘Older’ male and female, which corresponds to participants who are 51 years and over. Broad age classifications have been used to protect the identity of interviewees.

Interview procedures

Interviews took place on two occasions, in February and April 2009. Both sets of interviews followed the same procedure. Before the interviews took place, staff from the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre asked the potential interviewees whether they would be willing to participate in the post-Mangere orientation programme follow-up interviews. They told participants that participation was voluntary and any information they provided would be kept confidential.

Interviews were about 30–45 minutes long and followed a semi-structured questionnaire format. Interviews focused on first impressions and experiences of New Zealand, the value and experience of the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre, plans, and expectations and readiness to move into the community. The interview questions are reproduced in Appendix B.

Two researchers from International Migration, Settlement and Employment Dynamics (IMSED) Research were present along with a Nepali-speaking interpreter. Interview questions were asked in English, but questions and answers were interpreted in Nepali, as needed. Interviews were recorded where permission to do so was given, otherwise detailed field notes were taken.

At the completion of interviews, participants were given the opportunity to ask questions or raise concerns. Researchers answered questions as they were able, and referred any other questions to relevant people.

Ethical considerations

The process undertaken throughout this research complies with the IMSED Research strategy, which outlines ethical considerations throughout all research and evaluation. The Association of Social Science Researchers’ code of ethics (ASSR, 1996) and Social Policy Evaluation and Research Committee’s Good Practice Guidelines (SPEaR, 2008) have also been followed. Further, recommendations from an in-house training manual developed for the research study Quota Refugees Ten Years On: Perspectives on integration, community and identity were also considered in this research.

[5] The Quota Refugees Ten Years On: Perspectives of Integration, Community and Identity programme of work builds on Refugee Voices: A Journey Towards Resettlement, to understand what life is like for former refugees who have lived in New Zealand for more than ten years.