How you can help people granted refuge in Aotearoa New Zealand

To rebuild a life of opportunity, freedom and choice

Every human on the planet wants to live a safe, free and happy life. We all share a desire to be valued, a desire to be valued and to matter.

The instinct to survive and a hunger for freedom and safety for those you love is basic to all of us and integral to the preservation and sanctity of life.

All around the world, there are millions of men, women, children and babies who seek refuge because their homeland is no longer a safe place for them to live.

Here in New Zealand we have the great fortune of being able to help solve this problem for some of these people by opening up our hearts and homeland. We are a multicultural society that provides a beautiful and safe home for families from a wide-range of diverse backgrounds.

But right now in New Zealand, people who have come seeking that freedom and safety are given very different welcomes depending on their label.

How does this work?

People granted refuge in New Zealand fall into two legal categories or ‘labels’ — ‘Convention’ and ‘Quota’ refugees. Both groups of people come here under extremely difficult conditions. Both groups of people come here seeking a better life for themselves and their family. Yet only people who get the label ‘Quota refugee’ are entitled to Government resettlement services and support. Support like language, culture and employment training, accommodation supplements and help with integrating into a new community. According to research, these services provide people with greater “self-sufficiency, health, participation, education and housing outcomes”.

We believe all people seeking refuge in New Zealand should receive this vital support.

By making this relatively simple policy change, the Government can drastically improve the lives of the people who come to New Zealand seeking refuge each year but miss out on support because of a technical legal label that is decided based arbitrarily on the way they got to New Zealand.

The community support programmes already exist, what we need to do now is make sure that everybody who needs the help has access to it. The number of people who are granted ‘Convention’ refugee status each year is less than 100.

We know that the Government can respond to a strong signal of public support for doing better for people who come to New Zealand as refugees. We saw this happen when the Government increased New Zealand’s refugee quota in response to a campaign very similar to this one. Campaigns like this can and do influence politicians. Help us influence them today.

How you can help:

The good news is ethical cosmetics company Lush have been working with us to ensure all people seeking refuge have access to the same support.

In September, signs calling for Equal Rights for Refugees were up in every Lush store in New Zealand. Every customer had a conversation about the issue with a Lush staff member. Hundreds of customers wrote postcards to Minister of Immigration Michael Woodhouse, calling on him to provide support for people who come to New Zealand as “convention refugees”. It wouldn’t even require Government to build any new infrastructure, they just need to extend the support we already have in place to all refugees, regardless of label.

The postcards in a Lush store in Wellington

We still have hundreds of beautiful postcards and info booklets left (kindly provided by Lush).

[UPDATE: All postcards have now been sent!]

Click here to support people seeking refuge in New Zealand by signing up to get a pack of postcards (they come in packs of 10, 20 and 30)

You can then get them filled in and send them off to the Minister of Immigration (Freepost). Info booklets are also provided. If you are part of any sort of community then you may know people who will want to write a short message of support (e.g. a workplace, a school, a sports team, a community group, a choir).

We’ve all experienced being treated differently depending on the labels people give us. All that most of us want is to be treated fairly, and to be seen and valued as the person beyond the label.

Nobody is ever just a refugee. Nobody is ever just a single thing. By treating all the people who come to New Zealand seeking asylum with fairness, compassion and dignity, and as people, beyond labels, we ensure that they can get on with rebuilding their lives in our community.

Here are two stories from former refugees who are thriving living in New Zealand today:

Daniel Gamboa Salazar and his mother fled Colombia when rebels threatened to kill the then 12-year-old boy, because his mother refused to hide their weapons in her restaurant.

“We left the same night, we left family, friends and possessions behind and went to Ecuador, where we were given refugee status.”

After six hard years in Ecuador — where teachers told Gamboa Salazar “you should go back to your country, you don’t belong here” — he and his mother were accepted into New Zealand in 2012.

Now 22, Daniel lives in Lower Hutt where he manages to balance full-time study with a host of other commitments. He’s an active member of his local drama group, an ESOL tutor and the founder of the recently established National Refugee Youth Council. He is also a fan of The Bachelor.

Through Daniel’s acting and the National Refugee Youth Council he hopes to help other refugee youth — who, he explains, often become the unofficial head of the family because they learn English more quickly — by linking them with other organisations who can help.

Golriz Ghahraman

Iranian-born Golriz Ghahraman came to New Zealand with her family in 1990 to seek asylum, hoping for safety and knowing if they were sent back they would not be free.

She arrived as a 9-year-old after a brutal revolution and oppressive regime swept over Iran, and a violent eight-year war with Iraq ripped both countries apart.

She vividly remembers arriving in New Zealand, being surprised at how kind the officials were and knowing how important their decision would be for the future of her family. “I think it’s quite a heavy burden on refugee children, living up to the expectations of my parents who have risked everything to be here for me and probably their own careers too. There is a sense of responsibility of living up to the gift that New Zealand has given us.”

With this as her grounding, Golriz studied International Human Rights Law at Oxford University. She went on to work as a lawyer for the United Nations in Tribunals for Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, and Cambodia, trying those accused of committing human rights atrocities. Despite high-flying job offers from overseas, she has now committed permanently to putting her specialist skill to use for the benefit of New Zealand.

She volunteers her legal and expert services for at least three different organisations, focused on child rights and justice issues, giving up much of her free time to give back to her community in Auckland, which she now considers her permanent home. Golriz is also running to be a Member of Parliament in New Zealand this year.

Click here to support people seeking refuge in New Zealand by signing up to get a pack of postcards (they come in packs of 10, 20 and 30).