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The Bhutanese Refugee Resettlement Journey Part 3: Settlement


'We decided to come here thinking of the bright future for the children. Based on our experience so far we hope for that.' (Middle-aged male)


Having lived in New Zealand for the past 18 to 20 months, this group has come through the initial ‘settling in’ period. As a cohort who has experienced New Zealand’s resettlement programme first hand, this chapter explores what insights this group has, and given where they are at now, asks what their hopes are for their future.

Thoughts on New Zealand’s resettlement program

As this group had just gone through the resettlement process in New Zealand, they were able to provide some unique insights into the way in which New Zealand resettles quota refugees. In addition, due to the nature of third-country resettlement for Bhutanese refugees and the level of connectedness of this group, insights were also able to be gleaned as to the pros and cons of New Zealand’s approach compared to other countries.

New Zealand’s resettlement approach

All interviewees were extremely appreciative of the New Zealand Government and the opportunity they had provided them to start a new life. The following sentiments were common:

We never dreamed of living in New Zealand. We have never dreamed of having these facilities in Nepal. We have seen a car, but never dreamed of owning one now we have one and a house … We have got so much, [the New Zealand Government] have provided everything. (Middle-aged female)

Happy with New Zealand Government – My first duty is to serve them as they helped us move here. (Adult female)

Until now everyone is supporting me and everyone is helping me. (Middle-aged male)

This group would not like to be seen as ‘complaining’ and in general had an optimistic outlook as one woman said ‘everything is provided for us, so we feel bad to ask for more’. However, there were inevitably some issues and improvements that they thought could be made to make resettlement easier and outcomes better.

Refugee Re-establishment Grants

Firstly, many brought up the Re-establishment Grant that refugees are entitled to on arrival through Work and Income New Zealand. This is up to $1,200 per family and is to help with the costs associated with setting up a home or life in New Zealand, for example; furniture, bedding, clothes, attending English language classes, transport costs (Work and Income, 2011). Interviewees frequently expressed that this amount did not cover the costs that it was designed for, and that it also benefited families with adult children as each adult family member was entitled to the grant:

The settlement grant is $1200 – have to buy a fridge etc and it’s not enough for clothes as well. We heard of a single mother who had no facilities in the house, no furniture or anything and she couldn’t manage. It was very hard for her. (Adult female)

We are provided with $1200 for a family, but if the family has older children, they get $1200 each, so they have a lot more to spend. (Adult male)

Employment and vocational training

The other major area where it was felt more emphasis needed to be placed was with employment and vocational training. Many felt that New Zealand had brought them to New Zealand, and so had some sort of responsibility to ensure they did not remain ‘idle’ and had the opportunity to contribute to society. As a group they did not want to rely on ‘hand outs’ from the government, and had applied for third-country resettlement in order to kick start their lives again. The below are an example of interviewees’ thoughts and suggestions:

If the government can fund city councils to up-skill us, this would make it much easier for us to integrate. (Middle-aged male)

If the course was designed to suit the qualifications that people have when they come – an up-skilling programme. It should be more focused on a job. (Adult male)

The biggest thing is a job. The government have to do something to help this problem, we are given driving training and computer help but need more than this. (Adult male)

The Immigration Department brings us here; we need a chance to upgrade skills. Everyone wants New Zealand experience and how can we offer that? We need to get a chance to show that. (Adult male)

Vocational training can be a very successful strategy to include refugees in the labour market. It can be a first step to enter an organisation, learn the culture, engage in normal civic life and gain valuable experience (Hamberger, 2009).

The former Bhutanese refugees are extremely committed to New Zealand. They have made New Zealand their new home, and intend to stay here. In order to feel that they are contributing to a country that has given them so much, they need to have the opportunity to find meaningful employment. This will be this group’s priority in the coming years.

Comparison to other countries

Being such a well connected group, interviewees had heard how Bhutanese resettled in other countries were also faring and the assistance that they had received. Most commented on differences between New Zealand and the United States. The main comparison to be made was that many of those who had been resettled in the United States had found jobs, and had done so quickly. In general it was felt that because of this, those resettled in the United States were better off:

Family in the USA have a job. They have started working already and have bought a house. They have a community group who help them find work. Those who are not well educated find it easier to get a job because they don’t have to get any qualifications accredited/checked. (Adult male)

Our family in the USA have found a job so they are better off. If we could get a job it would be better. (Adult female)

All brothers and sisters are in the USA and started work straight away. (Adult female)

However, whilst there was acknowledgement that work opportunities were better in the United States, it was also recognised that because former refugees are not entitled to the same benefits as in New Zealand, that they have not had the opportunities that those resettled in New Zealand have had to improve their English language and continue with their studies:

After 6 months you have to earn your own living. Children have to leave school. Just work, eat and sleep and it’s hard to learn English. (Adult male)

There is more opportunity to find work over there, but more opportunity to study here. (Adult female)

Whilst some thought that perhaps they would have liked to have been resettled in the United States, most were grateful for the assistance that is provided in New Zealand and the opportunities that this creates.


At the end of the interviews every interviewee was asked what their biggest achievement had been since arriving in New Zealand. Responses to this varied but generally followed similar themes. For half of those interviewed, their biggest achievement was improving their English. For others, completing a course or learning to use a computer was recognised as their biggest achievement to date. For some new mothers having a baby was understandably their biggest achievement, whereas for some fathers, learning to drive and owning a car was theirs. Some were more philosophical in their responses recognising that for them the biggest achievement was starting a new life in New Zealand and finding happiness for them and for their children and future grandchildren.

Hopes for the future

There were several hopes interviewees held for their future, and certain goals they hoped to achieve. For many it was hoped that they would be able to find a job that would utilise their skills and make their own way here in New Zealand. As one woman said of her future ‘I would like to be independent and earn something for my own living’. For others they hoped that they would be able to improve their English: ‘to communicate in English is my dream’ said one mother. Completing a course was a primary goal for some whereas for others the goal was to learn to drive. Others hoped to be able to visit their loved ones resettled in other countries at some stage in the future.

Hopes for their children

For many refugees, a primary motivator in the decision to apply for third-country resettlement was to provide a better future for their children. At the end of interviews parents were asked what hopes they now held for their children and their futures. Parents most often hoped that their children would have a good education which would lead to a rewarding career, one woman joked that she was thinking her daughter would be a nurse, and her son a policeman, but acknowledged that they would decide. Like most parents, those interviewed also wanted their children to grow up to be ‘good’ and ‘happy’ people who were able to positively contribute to society. But overall, parents overwhelming wanted to provide a future for their children that was better than what they could have expected if they stayed in the camps in Nepal:

We decided to come here thinking of the bright future for the children. Based on our experience so far we hope for that. (Middle-aged male)

I know this is a better place so no doubt they will have a better future. (Adult female)


For most, New Zealand’s resettlement programme and the opportunities that it allows were unimaginable before arrival to New Zealand. There were inevitably some areas where improvements were identified, and these commonly revolved around more government assistance. Coming from 18 years spent within refugee camps where day-to-day living was dependent on others, and there were little opportunities for independence it is unsurprising that this group expect a certain level of assistance with regards to their future. Of particular importance to this group is gaining employment and opportunities to do so in other countries led some to feel disadvantaged by being resettled in New Zealand.

There was a sense of hope and anticipation for the future, particularly towards the younger generation and the opportunities they will have and the options that will be available to them. However, for interviewees themselves, the future seemed less certain with many unsure whether they would gain meaningful employment.