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The Bhutanese Refugee Resettlement Journey Part 2: On-arrival


The Mangere interviews provided an opportunity to explore the initial impressions of New Zealand of a group with little knowledge about what to expect before arrival.

First impressions

Initial impressions and experiences of New Zealand for most of those interviewed were positive. The three most common things mentioned were:

Impressions of the environment and scenery

For many, the first impression was one of their immediate surroundings, environment and scenery; for others, it was their first ever glimpse of the sea from the plane when landing into Auckland. Most noticed New Zealand was clean and green and the stark difference in weather:

The weather is colder than in Nepal, but the direct sun is hot. (Adult female)

Impressions of New Zealanders

Once participants had taken in the initial surroundings, the New Zealand people they were in direct contact with made a strong impression; their helpfulness and friendliness was particularly noticed. As one woman said:

Compared to people at home, people here are very helpful. We don’t even need to do the dishes! (Adult female)

Impressions of Facilities and experiences

Because many had little or no idea about what to expect on their arrival, the facilities and arrangements at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre were also appreciated. As one man said:

The facilities were more than I expected – the clothes, kitchen utensils they have given us. (Middle-aged male)

Many of those interviewed also expressed relief that New Zealand was better than they had expected and that life here might work out alright. As one man relayed:

When I arrive it seemed better than I thought – it will be okay. (Middle-aged male)

Adjustment difficulties experienced

However, as might be expected when people arrive into a different country and culture, not all first impressions were positive. Many found it difficult to adjust to the:

Adjusting to the different physical environment

For some, the first few days in New Zealand were difficult and involved negative thoughts, feelings and reactions. As one woman expressed it:

In the beginning, my first impression was that the sky felt so close to the ground and I can’t actually understand what all peoples are saying– it felt suffocating. (Adult female)

Adjusting to the impact of leaving loved ones behind

For others, the impact of having to leave loved ones in Nepal and the reality of their situation and third-country resettlement were being realised:

As I reach here, I was not happy at all, because my relatives are left in Nepal. Natural things are not replacement for many emotional need. Bhutan is still tolerating the chronic pain of Bhutan Government and my family are sitting there under the heat of the roof of the sky. I am not that happy at all. (Adult female)

Adjusting to new culture and food

Participants also experienced difficulties adjusting to a new culture, in particular to the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre where unfamiliar food was being introduced:

Main problem is the food – we are used to rice and lentils but here, the food is different. The elderly don’t like it; they’re not used to it. (Adult male)