The Bhutanese Refugee Resettlement Journey Part 2: On-arrival
The Bhutanese Refugee Resettlement Research Programme is following a group of Bhutanese refugees from camps in Nepal through to settlement in New Zealand.
The research involves three phases of data collection. The first phase involved initial interviews with a group in refugee camps in Nepal. The second phase involved follow-up interviews at the end of the resettled refugees’ orientation process at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre (which is the focus of this report), and the third phase involved interviews in the community 18–20 months after the refugees’ arrival in New Zealand.
Since the 1990s, over 100,000 Lhotshampa (Bhutanese of Nepali origin) have been confined to seven refugee camps in south-eastern Nepal after the Government of Bhutan revoked their citizenship and forced them to flee the country. These Nepali Bhutanese spent 18 years in refugee camps, being denied integration into the local Nepal community or their return to Bhutan before the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees offered third-country resettlement as a solution.
In 2007, New Zealand announced its inclusion of Bhutanese refugees into its annual refugee quota, and in 2008 the first selection mission to the camps in Nepal took place. As part of the second selection mission in October 2008, 33 Bhutanese refugees gave their permission to be interviewed about their pre-resettlement needs, expectations and experiences. The findings from these interviews are presented in The Bhutanese Refugee Resettlement Journey – Part 1: Pre-departure(Department of Labour, 2011a).
The second phase of the research, and the focus of this report, involves a series of shorter follow-up interviews at the end of the Mangere orientation process. The Mangere interviews were designed to provide immediate feedback and information to the Department. These interviews focused on specific aspects of the orientation programme, in particular how it worked, how before and after departure expectations were met, and the refugees’ hopes for their life in New Zealand.
The third and final phase of the research explores the post-settlement experiences of this group of former refugees and examines specific elements of settlement into New Zealand society. The findings from these interviews can be found in The Bhutanese Refugee Resettlement Journey – Part 3: Settlement (Department of Labour, 2011b).
The study explored specific aspects of New Zealand’s orientation programme with a particular focus on; first impressions of New Zealand, experiences at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre, pre-departure information needs, plans for after the orientation programme and preparedness to live in the community.
Initial impressions of New Zealand for most of those interviewed were positive. The most common first impressions were of:
- the environment and scenery
- the helpfulness of New Zealanders
- the facilities and experiences being better than expected.
Some difficulties however were experienced which were mostly in relation to:
- the different physical environment
- the impact of leaving loved ones behind in camps
- adjusting to a new culture and food.
Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre
There were many aspects to the orientation programme that were found to be extremely valuable, in particular the English language and information sessions run by the Auckland University of Technology.
Some areas where the orientation could better meet the needs of refugees were also highlighted. The areas were it was felt could be improved were:
- more English language classes
- more information about banking and housing
- fewer disturbances during sessions
- more appropriate food at the centre in terms of taste and preparation.
Pre-Departure information needs
Interviewees consistently commented on the lack of information particularly before departure. This information related to:
- New Zealand generally – what to expect on arrival
- customs processes – what was allowed to brought to New Zealand
- what to bring to New Zealand and baggage allowances
- the journey, including the transit process.
Plans for after the orientation programme
At the time of interviews, most people’s plans for the coming months were to first learn English. Either in conjunction with this, or after this many planned to find study and/or paid work. Another immediate priority on arrival to the community was to enrol children in school and to get to know their new surroundings and community.
Living in the community
Most of those interviewed had no concerns about going out into the community, and felt prepared for this. Those that were concerned said this was due to:
- their limited English
- fears about day to day living and isolation
- uncertainty surrounding the appropriateness of their housing and reliance on daughters
Few interviewees knew much about the city in which they were to be resettled. Some would have liked more information about their local area and where to find things, but thought they would find out what they needed to know when they arrived. Others were anxious about where they were to be resettled, what their house would be like and how to find the services and facilities they would need.