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The Bhutanese Refugee Resettlement Journey Part 3: settlement



The 2008 selection mission to Nepal was used as a unique opportunity to undertake research on this group of refugees. The aim of the Bhutanese Refugee Resettlement Research Project is to provide information about the pre-settlement hopes, expectations and experiences of the Bhutanese refugees, as well as their short-term settlement outcomes. This information will enable better support for the resettlement not only of this community, but of refugees generally.

The findings of the Bhutanese Refugee Resettlement Research Project as a whole will help to:

Monitoring before-and-after settlement needs and outcomes for this cohort will provide valuable information on the resettlement of refugees through the Refugee Quota Programme. Little such monitoring has been undertaken in the last two decades. The complexities of world events and resettlement needs require the Department of Labour to monitor its practices to ensure they are up to date and in the best interest of the communities who are to be resettled through the Refugee Quota Programme.

Previous research

There has been relatively little research on refugee resettlement in New Zealand. The notable exception is Refugee Voices: A journey towards resettlement (Department of Labour, 2004), which contains the findings from interviews with nearly 400 recent and established refugees, and the recently published New Land, New Life: Long-Term Settlement of Refugees in New Zealand (Department of Labour, 2011c) which is a preliminary report from the Quota Refugees Ten Years On programme of research.[12] However, this study of Bhutanese refugees before and after resettlement is unique both nationally and internationally. No other studies that systematically examined the expectations of refugees before resettlement and their short-term reactions after resettlement could be found.

There are some studies of refugees after resettlement. These studies tend to focus on specific issues such as impacts on the health of refugee youth (Gifford et al., 2007), ongoing effects of violent refugee experiences after resettlement (Amone-P’Olak, 2007), changes in family structure (Currie, 2007), the challenges of integrating refugees into the workforce (Posiadlowski, 2007) or other specific aspects of third-country social or economic structure (Valtonen, 1998, 2004; Pottie et al., 2006; Spitzer, 2006; Beirens et al., 2007; VanderPlaat, 2007; Pressé and Thomson, 2008).

No substantial studies appear to explore these issues from the perspective of the refugees, before, during and after resettlement (Mitchell and Kisner, 2004). However, this is an important issue, as other researchers have pointed out. Gifford and colleagues (2007) demonstrate from their prospective study of a cohort of refugee youth resettled in Melbourne that important differences exist between studies that examine the importance of ‘meaning’ as made by individuals and studies that focus on the ‘measurement’ of indicators as decided by researchers. There is limited understanding of how refugees’ own priorities and values may change between pre-arrival and settlement. This study takes account of these issues in its design. The substantive issues important in New Zealand policy and the provision of services for resettling refugees are addressed through a selection of topics and questions in a semi-structured interview.

Research structure and phases

The research involves three phases of data collection. The first phase involved 33 interviews that took place as part of New Zealand’s refugee mission to Nepal in October 2008 (see Department of Labour, 2011a). Interviewees were asked about their background, expectations of resettlement, existing knowledge of New Zealand, their goals for life in New Zealand and expected settlement support needs both before departure and after arrival.

The second phase of the research involved a series of shorter follow-up interviews at the end of the orientation process at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre. These interviews were designed to provide immediate feedback and information to the Department of Labour. These interviews focused on specific aspects of the orientation programme with a particular focus on how it worked, how before and after departure expectations were met, and the refugees’ hopes for their life in New Zealand (see Department of Labour, 2011b).

The third and final phase of research, and focus of this report, took place in the community, 18 to 20 months after the refugees’ arrival in New Zealand. These interviews focused on specific elements of settlement into New Zealand society.



The original sample for the Bhutanese refugee resettlement research project consisted of 33 people, who were interviewed in Nepal during the first phase of this research. As part of the informed consent process in Nepal, interviewees were asked if they would agree to being contacted for further interviews. At this time, 21 people agreed to be contacted once in New Zealand.

At the time of the Mangere interviews, 18 of these people had arrived in New Zealand and all consented to being interviewed for the second phase of the research.
For the community interviews, and final phase of the research, all 21 people who were originally interviewed in Nepal, and who had agreed to be contacted again, had arrived in New Zealand and were therefore eligible to participate in the third phase of the research.

Community Interview Participants

A total of 20 former Bhutanese refugees participated in the community interviews. The sample consisted of 11 females and 9 males who ranged in age from 20 to 78 years, with a median age of 34 years. All participants came to New Zealand as part of a family group.

The length of time spent in the refugee camps in Nepal ranged from 15 years to 18 years with most having spent 17 years in the camps. Age on arrival to the refugee camps differed greatly with the youngest entering the camps at the age of 2 years and the eldest at the age of 61 years. The average age on arrival to the camps was 16.5 years.

Participants had a range of education; four had had no formal education, four were educated to between Grades 6 and 8 (New Zealand Years 7 to 9), seven were educated to between Grades 9 and 12 (New Zealand Years 10 to 13) and five had studied at University level. There was also a range in skills and employment histories from no previous employment to highly skilled work.

Unless otherwise specified, quotes throughout this report have been broken into the two age classifications of ‘Adult’ male and female, which relates to ages 20 to 35 and ‘Middle-aged’ male and female which relates to those aged over 35 years. Broad age classifications have been used to protect the identity of interviewees.

Interview Procedures

Interviews were conducted 18 to 20 months post-resettlement, in Christchurch, Palmerston North and Nelson. Thirteen interviews took place in Christchurch across three days in July/August 2010. Six participants were interviewed in Palmerston North in October 2010, and one participant was interviewed in Nelson in December 2010.


Participants were firstly sent a letter to their last known address; this letter was in Nepali and re-introduced the study, its purpose, and what would be involved in the follow-up community interview if they agreed to participate. Approximately a week after letters were sent, all participants received a phone call by a native Nepali speaker, and were asked if they were willing to participate in a community interview, and if so, an interview time and date was set-up. All of those contacted were willing to participate in interviews; however, one person was out of town when interviews were to be conducted and therefore was unable to be interviewed.


All interviews took place at participants’ homes. Two researchers from IMSED Research were present at all interviews (one interviewer, one note-taker) along with a Nepali-speaking interpreter. Interview questions were asked in English, and where needed questions and answers were interpreted and translated into Nepali/English. Interviewees were not comfortable to have their interviews recorded, and therefore field notes were instead taken[13].

At the beginning of interviews, all participants were given an information sheet outlining the research, its purpose and what was involved in Nepali. Participants were informed that participation in the community interviews was voluntary, and that any information they provided would be kept confidential. Participants were then asked to give their informed consent, and were given a $25 supermarket voucher as a token of appreciation for their time.

Interviews were approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour long, and followed a semi-structured questionnaire format. Interviews focussed on settlement experiences, and what life has been like since arriving in New Zealand. Topics covered were English language, education, employment, health, safety, cultural and religious maintenance and hopes for the future. A full set of interview questions are provided in Appendix B.

At the completion of interviews participants were given the opportunity to ask any questions or raise any concerns they had. Researchers answered questions as they were able, and referred any other questions to relevant people.

Ethical considerations

The process undertaken throughout this research complies with the International Migration, Settlement and Employment Dynamics (IMSED) Research strategy, which outlines ethical considerations for all research and evaluation. The Association of Social Science Researchers’ code of ethics (ASSR, 1996) and Social Policy Evaluation and Research Committee’s Good Practice Guidelines (SPEaR, 2008) have also been followed. Further, recommendations from an in-house training manual developed for the research study Quota Refugees Ten years On: Perspectives on integration, community and identity were also considered in this research.

The researchers reviewed Mackenzie and colleagues’ paper ‘Beyond “do no harm”: The challenge of constructing ethical relationships in refugee research’ (Mackenzie et al., 2007). The paper raised the need for researchers to move beyond harm minimisation as a standard for ethical research and recognise an obligation to design and conduct research projects that aim to bring about reciprocal benefits for refugee participants and/or communities.

In relation to these concerns, it is important to note that in addition to identifying the needs of the Bhutanese refugees accepted for resettlement in New Zealand, this research has been designed to monitor and evaluate the operational processes of the Department of Labour. The information gained by tracking the impacts and outcomes for this cohort will help the Department in its efforts to successfully resettle quota refugees from pre-arrival to post-arrival.

In addition, due to the nature of interviews, up to three counselling sessions were made available to participants for them to access independently in case interviews brought up anything that they wanted some support with.

Data Analysis

Field notes from interviews were transferred into the qualitative software package NVivo 8 and an iterative process of thematic analysis was undertaken.

[12]The Quota Refugees Ten Years On: Perspectives of Integration, Community and Identity programme of work builds on Refugee Voices: A Journey Towards Resettlement, to understand what life is like for former refugees who have lived in New Zealand for more than ten years.

[13] Therefore quotes throughout the report are not verbatim