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The Bhutanese Refugee Resettlement Journey Part 2: On-arrival


These interviews provided a unique opportunity to gain important insight into the expectations and experiences of a newly arrived cohort of refugees. Interviews revealed the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre orientation programme and facilities generally exceeded expectations, and interviewees found that the information provided was useful and relevant. However, there were some suggestions for the way in which the centre could better meet this group’s needs.

Pre-departure information

For many of the Bhutanese refugees resettled in New Zealand the camps in Nepal have been home for up to 18 years. Hence, they have no knowledge of life in a modern Western society. They need appropriate information and time to prepare in order to easily adapt to a foreign culture and country. This is extremely important because wrong information can lead to unrealistic expectations and increased personal difficulties and extended periods of adjustment on arrival (Gray, 2008).

One limitation of living in a refugee camp is a lack of reliable information. The Bhutanese refugee situation is unique in that a large percentage of the refugees are being resettled in the United States and Canada, so are exposed to information from other countries’ pre-departure orientation courses. Many of those interviewed commented that the main source of information in terms of the journey came from others within the camps who had attended pre-departure orientation before resettlement in other countries.

The interviews revealed the need for better support before arrival by way of pre-departure information. It is important that sufficient timely and accurate information be given to refugees before they depart for New Zealand to decrease the level of difficulties experienced and aid adjustment and successful settlement into the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre and life in New Zealand. In particular, more detailed information is needed about: New Zealand culture, geography, healthcare and educational systems; the 6 week orientation programme that will be received on arrival to New Zealand; the journey to New Zealand including baggage allowances and transit information.

Providing more comprehensive information prior to departure would also give those being resettled in New Zealand an opportunity to ask questions at a more appropriate time and in a more relaxed environment than during selection interviews where the focus is on gaining approval rather than information gathering.[6]

Food served at the Mangere Refugee resettlement Centre

A major challenge for almost all interviewees during their stay at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre was the food served at the centre. As a new cohort of refugees at the centre, their strict dietary needs were not necessarily well understood or able to be catered for. There is a need to clearly communicate with refugees how food is prepared and ingredients used in all meals. In addition, food prepared at the centre needs to be prepared in a way that is appropriate for the refugees at the centre at the time, and care must be taken to avoid cross contamination. For example, it is important that beef is not prepared and served next to vegetarian meals whilst Bhutanese refugees are at the centre. In turn, refugees at the centre also need to be made aware that they are part of a multi-ethnic intake of residents at the centre, and kitchen staff cannot cater for the dietary requirements of all residents all of the time.[7]

Enlisting support for the cultural orientation programme from the broader community of interest

A useful addition to the orientation programme would be enlisting support from the broader community of interest (for example, the New Zealand Nepali community) for the cultural orientation programme. This support would provide valuable context and relevant perspectives for new refugees. Such support is currently provided to a limited extent by cross-cultural workers at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre. It is well received, although refugees could benefit from more such engagement.

Better access for women with young children

Interviews identified the difficulty that women with young children have whilst at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre. It is important for these women to access the whole orientation programme, so they are as equally prepared as others to go out into the community. Finding ways for women to leave their children that they are comfortable with so they can attend AUT classes as much as possible will be of great benefit on arrival to the community.

Timing and phasing of aspects of the orientation programme

It is important that whilst at the centre refugees have access to all information and classes available at the centre. Interviewees commonly expressed frustration during interviews conducted at the end of the Mangere orientation programme that classes and learning was disrupted by medical examinations.

It is acknowledged amongst agencies at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre that it is not ideal for residents to have to attend medical appointments during classes. However, whenever possible, appointments with all other agencies are made outside of these sessions, particularly orientation sessions. Furthermore, health screening is an essential part of the Mangere programme and certain aspects of the screening, such as X-rays, immunisations and dental checks are run by off-site medical staff so the timing of these appointments is not always flexible.

Resources and activities after sessions

Some interviewees voiced their frustration at the lack of activities and resources available at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre outside of formal orientation sessions. Many relayed a feeling of boredom and/or felt that they could use this down time in a more productive way. Suggestions included:

It must be acknowledged that recreational activities in evenings and weekends occur on an ad hoc basis. It is difficult to have anything organised regularly, as the timetable is full after AUT hours so residents can attend other sessions with Refugees as Survivors, Refugee Services, Work and Income, the bank, and Housing New Zealand. Therefore, additional recreational programming must be balanced against the existing programme.


The Bhutanese refugees who participated in the Mangere interviews were predominantly positive and hopeful about their new life in New Zealand. Although many acknowledged the obstacles they needed to overcome and areas where they had found adjusting difficult, they generally had a positive outlook to the future and a readiness to move into the community. Whilst there were areas of improvement suggested overall the Mangere orientation programme had provided a good foundation of knowledge and most felt adequately prepared to enter the community and were looking forward to the next step in the resettlement process.

[6] Note: The Refugee Resettlement Strategy currently under development is addressing the need for pre-departure information and assessing possible options for short orientation sessions prior to departure.


[8] Note: since these interviews were undertaken a library area has been incorporated at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre.