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The Bhutanese Refugee Resettlement Journey Part 3: Settlement



New Zealand’s refugee policy has evolved in response to changing global circumstances and needs. The history of refugee resettlement in New Zealand formally began with the intake of 800 Polish people, predominantly orphaned children, during the Second World War in 1944. Since this time New Zealand has continued to receive a range of people from diverse cultures including; Eastern Europe, South East Asia, Africa and the Middle East all of whom have added to the richness of New Zealand society (Beaglehole, 2009).

Background to refugee resettlement

Third-country resettlement has been in existence in one form or another since between the two World Wars. Millions of people over the past 50 years have had the opportunity to rebuild their lives through the resettlement process (UNHCR, 2004). According to the UNHCR resettlement involves ’the selection and transfer of refugees from a State in which they have sought protection to a third State which has agreed to admit them – as refugees - with permanent residence status. The status provided should ensure protection against refoulement[3]and provide a resettled refugee and his/her family or dependants with access to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights similar to those enjoyed by nationals. It should also carry with it the opportunity to eventually become a naturalized citizen of the resettlement country.’ (UNHCR, 2004. p 1/2).

The UNHCR (2002. p 32) sets out nine goals of resettlement and integration for refugees. They are as follows:

New Zealand’s Refugee Policy and Refugee Quota Programme [4]

In 1987, the New Zealand Government established a formal annual quota for the resettlement of refugees.[5] In recent years, the focus has been on refugees most in need of resettlement as identified by the UNHCR. Before resettlement decisions are made, refugees referred by the UNHCR are interviewed by Refugee Quota Branch officers from the Department of Labour in the country of asylum or, where this is not feasible, by officers of international organisations in the field. Each case undergoes a comprehensive selection screening and assessment process that focuses on credibility, risk and potential settlement to ensure:

If the Department of Labour is not satisfied with the information presented in relation to any of the above considerations, the case is declined.

The New Zealand Government aims to ensure the resettlement quota remains targeted to refugees and that New Zealand has the capacity to provide good settlement outcomes to those accepted under the Refugee Quota Programme. The programme allows 750 places[6]. These places are made up of:

All subcategories within the refugee resettlement quota generally include the immediate family members (that is, spouse and dependent children) of the principal applicant.

In addition to standard family residence categories, two specific family reunification policies are available for refugees.

Within the quota, a declared spouse and dependent children may be included.

Under the Refugee Family Support Category, 300 residence places are available for refugees to sponsor family members. This has been limited to Tier 1 priority sponsors (those being refugees who are considered ‘alone’ in New Zealand). Tier 2 will be opened to sponsors early in 2012; this will allow a wider range of sponsors to register.

The size and composition of the refugee resettlement quota has traditionally been set annually. However, from 2010-2011 the Minister of Immigration and Minister of Foreign Affairs agreed to a three year planning cycle. The quota is reviewed annually in line with the three year cycle proposal after consulting widely with relevant government departments, the UNHCR, non-governmental organisations, existing refugee communities and other stakeholders.

New Zealand’s annual refugee quota is above average on a per capita basis compared with a number of other resettlement states (eighth out of the 19 resettlement countries). Other countries with significant resettlement quotas include the United States, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom. Australia has the highest quota programme on a per capita basis.

The Refugee Division of the Department of Labour works closely with the UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration and other governments to promote international responsibility sharing, coordinated responses to refugee issues, capacity building, and the ongoing development of norms, policies and best practice in refugee protection.

Refugees accepted for resettlement to New Zealand under the refugee quota programme are granted a permanent residence visa on arrival. As New Zealand permanent residents, they are entitled to live in New Zealand permanently, and enjoy almost all of the same rights as New Zealand citizens.

Orientation Programme and the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre [8]

New Zealand is one of only three countries that does not provide pre-departure cultural orientation[9]. Instead, on arrival all refugees granted residence in New Zealand under the Refugee Quota Programme spend their first 6 weeks at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre in Auckland. Immigration New Zealand, from the Department of Labour, manages the centre.

The centre can accommodate approximately 125 refugees from multiple ethnic groups at any one time. Facilities include accommodation blocks, an early childhood learning centre, classrooms, medical and dental clinics, a mental health clinic, and general living and recreation areas.

Orientation programmes are conducted in the refugees’ language and provide general information about life in New Zealand, including an English language component and adult education, early childhood learning and care, special education, and primary and secondary classes. The orientation programme also aims to build the basic social and coping skills required for refugees’ new life in New Zealand. The Auckland University of Technology coordinates the English language and education components of the programme.

During the 6 weeks at Mangere, refugees also undergo comprehensive medical and dental check-ups and, when needed, trauma counselling. Therapeutic activities are also provided for adults and children.

All refugees are given needs assessments in terms of education, employment experience, housing and social needs. All adult refugees are set up with a bank account and an Inland Revenue number and are enrolled with Work and Income, which provides each family with a resettlement grant of up to $1,200 and income support in the form of a benefit paid directly in to their bank account.

Support on arrival to the community[10]

After the 6 week orientation programme, newly arrived refugees are resettled across New Zealand in Auckland, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Wellington, Nelson and Christchurch. Refugee Services is one of the key non-government organisations supporting refugee resettlement on arrival to the community and helps to link refugees to government and non-government organisations who provide support to refugees. Refugees are supported for up to 12 months after resettlement in local communities.

On arrival to the community refugees are linked with specially trained volunteers who provide in home support to help them settle into their new home. In addition, refugees are supported with social workers and bicultural workers who monitor progress and help assess individual needs.

Housing New Zealand and Refugee Services Aotearoa work together to locate appropriate housing for refugees in the community either through Housing New Zealand stock or the private rental market[11]. In most cases refugees have accommodation to move into on arrival to the community. Refugee Services provides furniture and other essentials.

Child, Youth and Family funds services who specifically support refugees through social support, counselling, interpreting services and activity programmes for refugee children and youth.
On arrival to New Zealand, refugees are also entitled to social welfare, as well as additional allowances and grants in some cases.

Developments in the New Zealand refugee sector

Comprehensive Resettlement Plans

In order to better capture the support refugees require to resettle and the activities that will support each refugee and their family in this process, a new Comprehensive Resettlement Plan known as ‘Pathways’ is currently being trialled by Refugee Services Aotearoa over the 2011/12 year.

Refugee Services Aotearoa is a non-government organisation that operates throughout New Zealand and is contracted by the Department of Labour to link all refugees who arrive in New Zealand as part of the annual quota to essential services and facilities. Pathways planning comprises two key components; a family settlement plan and an individual pathway to employment plan (for those aged over 18 years). Pathways is designed to provide individuals and families with a framework through which they can achieve their goals for building a new life in New Zealand.

Pathways involves a multiple agency approach that currently begins at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre with initial assessments of refugee capabilities and service needs which are developed into a plan. Once resettled in local communities Refugee Services Aotearoa staff monitor and facilitate access to services required for achieving the plan.

This new approach is designed to establish a clear direction for the resettlement of individuals and families and enable comprehensive oversight of the achievement of milestones and goals. With a stronger focus on self-sufficiency as an outcome the Pathways approach will provide former refugees with a greater sense of direction and control over building their future in New Zealand (Refugee Services, 2010).

Refugee Resettlement Strategy

Refugee resettlement reflects New Zealand’s international commitment to refugee protection. New Zealand’s resettlement programme is well regarded internationally in terms of providing vulnerable refugees with protection, safety and the chance of a new life. In spite of this, refugee outcomes have been poor – employment rates are low and benefit take-up rates and state housing tenancies are high. Problems with New Zealand’s current approach include; the lack of agreement on desired outcomes, service gaps and overlaps, and poor coordination across provider agencies. There are also issues around the future use of the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre which has passed its useful life. 

The New Zealand Refugee Resettlement Strategy responds to these issues. Its development through a cross-sectoral process has been led by Department of Labour. The Strategy provides an outcomes-based coordinated response to the needs of refugees who settle in New Zealand so they are self sufficient at the earliest opportunity and living independently of state support. Its framework of integration outcomes and goals focuses on the key areas of resettlement and what should be achieved at each stage. Self-sufficiency through employment and active participation in New Zealand life are the principal outcomes sought. They will be underpinned by improved outcomes in health and wellbeing, education (including English language) and housing. Success indicators and proposed performance targets will measure progress towards integration and inform decisions on service delivery and resource allocation.

It is proposed that that the Strategy applies to Refugee Quota intakes from 1 July 2012. More detailed work is currently being undertaken on how the Strategy might be implemented.

[3] Refoulement is to expel or return a refugee to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion (Gray, 2008).

[4] Most of the information in this section comes from UNHCR (2007).

[5] New Zealand also assesses claims for asylum under the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

[6] The total annual quota may vary by plus or minus 10 percent.

[7] For the purposes of resettlement, the UNHCR considers women at risk as ‘those women or girls who have protection problems particular to their gender, whether they are single heads-of-families, unaccompanied girls or together with their male (or female) family members’ (UNHCR, 2004)

[8] The information in this section comes from UNHCR (2007).

[9] Ireland and the Netherlands also do not provide pre-departure cultural orientation.

[10] This section comes from Department of Labour (2009).

[11] The housing need of refugees at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre is assessed using Housing New Zealand Corporation’s Social Allocation System. Those refugees who qualify for state housing are placed on the waiting list for appropriate housing in the area specified by Refugee Services Aotearoa.