The Bhutanese Refugee Resettlement Journey Part 2: On-arrival
MANGERE REFUGEE RESETTLEMENT CENTRE
The Mangere interviews also provided an opportunity to gain insight into the interviewees experiences of New Zealands orientation programme while they were in attendance rather than retrospectively. Questions explored interviewees impressions and thoughts on the programme in general as well as its specific components, in addition to problems they had encountered or parts they felt were missing or not covered sufficiently.
Valuable elements of the orientation programme
English language and information sessions
The Auckland University of Technology (AUT) at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre offers programmes for children and adults. The adult education programme includes English language and orientation to New Zealand sessions that introduce refugees to the essential skills and information they need to integrate successfully into the wider New Zealand community.
Because they arrived with little factual information about New Zealand, the interviewees found the education and information sessions useful and almost everyone who was interviewed said they found everything about the AUT sessions valuable. A few offered further insight into specific sessions they found most useful.
- English language and pronunciation classes:
- Found the English useful – can’t survive without it. (Adult female)
- General information about New Zealand (for example, its history, culture, and systems):
- Life in New Zealand, the mud pools in Rotorua was a surprise.
- Christchurch seems beautiful, with flowers and greenery. (Adult female)
- Rules and regulations:
- Law and order of New Zealander – if we do not have a knowledge of law and order I think it will be difficult to someone who is staying in this country. (Middle-aged male)
- The education system:
- The system of education – lots of direction about study. (Adult female)
Some of those interviewed had small children, so were unable to attend sessions or were present for only some or parts of them.
Other useful sessions
Other agencies also give presentations and run sessions about a variety of topics. The sessions those interviewed found commonly valuable were by the following organisations.
- The Gambling Foundation:
- We may think it’s just an innocent game and we end up gambling. This was very useful. Pokie machines more dangerous than wild tigers at home – they could lead to violence and other problems’. (Adult male)
- The New Zealand Police:
- Learnt the police won’t just take you and beat you. Here they are like friends – in Nepal you are afraid of them. (Middle-aged female)
- The Fire Service:
- Fire safety – that’s important. I think every people enjoyed it. (Adult male)
- Refugees as Survivors:
- We got counselling. For the depressed people they are getting ideas and support and some people can’t sleep at night so they taught us exercise to make our mind free so that we can sleep. (Adult female)
Ways the orientation programme could better meet the needs of refugees
The timing of interviews at the end of the Mangere orientation programme enabled reflection on what else could have been offered at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre to encourage those leaving to feel better prepared on arrival to the community.
More classes on the English language, banking and housing
The most common area where it was felt more focus was needed was with English language. Some felt more classes would have helped them to have a better grasp of and confidence in the language on their arrival to the community:
Would be helpful to have the English classes for a bit longer. (Adult female)
In addition, it was felt that there was a lack of interpreters at the centre who could act as important conduits of information to attendees:
There were lots from our ethnic groups, but only one interpreter. It was hard for those who don’t understand English. (Adult female)
More information on banking and housing would also be an improvement:
We were given some information on banking and housing but this was not sufficient. (Adult female)
Fewer disturbances during classes
Many interviewees were also dissatisfied with the number of disruptions during sessions. Many commented that orientation sessions were often disrupted by people being collected for or going to medical examinations. This was particularly difficult because it disrupted the flow of sessions and meant that those leaving missed out on important information. It was generally agreed that a more appropriate time could be sought for medical examinations to decrease the number of disturbances:
Disturbances during classes when we have to go to different appointments. Would be good to have these on other days to minimise disturbance and help learning. (Middle-aged male)
Barriers to attending orientation sessions
Women with young children had their time at the centre disrupted because they were often unable to attend sessions or missed parts of them. This meant they did not get the same level of assistance and information as others received, which led them to feel unprepared about going out into the community.
More appropriate food at the centre
The most frequently identified area for improvement was with the food served at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre. Almost all of those interviewed (15 out of 18) commented on the food served at the centre, with many interviewees finding the food inappropriate. This created a difficult adjustment that hindered initial settlement into New Zealand. It was particularly difficult for children and older people.
In addition to taste of the food, many had cultural or religious objections to how food was prepared and served. Many of the Nepali Bhutanese are Hindu who do not eat beef or are vegetarian. Some felt the treatment of the food was unacceptable according to their religious beliefs and cultural practices; some mentioned that the supposedly vegetarian food was not vegetarian; and others commented that beef was served next to rice and other food, which to them was ‘taboo’. As one man said:
The food was difficult here, especially for certain family members. Regular fasting was very difficult [every 11th day he ate only potato or kumara but no grains or meat]. Had rice cooker brought by a family member – cook this in the bathroom [especially when beef or meat is being cooked in the kitchen] even mentioning beef is terrible – the cow is holy. (Adult male)
Certain meals were also found to be problematic for this group. Egg is not a part of the Nepali or Hindu vegetarian diet. However, at one point, the Bhutanese were served a meal that contained eggs. Those who ate the meal experienced major gastric problems, because their digestive systems were unable to cope with the ‘foreign’ food. Some also commented that the gastric problems highlighted the inadequate toilet facilities at the centre – there were not enough facilities to cope with this crisis:
Many things are difficult – the toilet, bathroom. One toilet, two toilets are there, and many people, and we have to go together. They have been so dirty. (Adult male)
There was a general observation that many interviewees had lost weight since the interviews in Nepal. Many of the Bhutanese, particularly the elderly, had gone on an enforced fast because they could not stomach the food as a result of of its unusual taste and concerns about how food was prepared:
My daughter didn’t eat for 15–20 days and now is only eating a very little. Happy with the food, but we don’t cope easily with it. If the centre could arrange for some ethnic food – A lot of food here is being wasted. (Middle-aged male)
Although interviewees expressed dissatisfaction about the food and its preparation, they also generally acknowledged and understood that people of many ethnicities, cultures and dietary needs had to be catered for at the centre. One even provided a suggestion:
After arriving – they could arrange a meeting with the arrivals to talk about the food that will be served. This way we could save money from wasted food. We could offer volunteers to help cook the food. (Middle-aged male)
Other difficulties experienced
Other individuals mentioned:
- that everything was new and difficult:
- Everything is new for us, everything is difficult, but after Sunday it will be ok. We’ll do best, better. (Adult female)
- the length of the trip to Mission Bay:
- The time for this could be extended, because once we leave Auckland it will be a long time before we come back. (Adult female)
- access cards to the centre not working:
- The access cards didn’t work – need to constantly disturb staff here to get in and out of the centre. (Adult male)
- boredom and wasted time:
- I was bored at times – it would have been good to have a library of books to read. People want to learn more and spend their time usefully. It was wasted time. The children were also wasting time – there was a lack of learning materials/entertainment. The evenings and mornings were difficult. (Middle-aged male)