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Push for migrants to vote

KARINA ABADIA
Last updated 05:00 15/08/2014
refugee community

SPEAKING UP: Abann Yor, Yehuala Aboye and Kafeba Mundele are members of the Mt Roskill-based Auckland Refugee Community Coalition and are encouraging people to vote.

Cecil ram Lochan
BETTER REPRESENTATION: Auckland Regional Ethnic Council president Cecil Ram Lochan wants party policies to address migrants’ concerns.

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A big turnout by migrant voters could be a game changer on election day, Auckland Regional Ethnic Council president Cecil Ram Lochan says.

The New Zealand General Social Survey shows 59.4 per cent of new migrants didn't vote in the 2011 General Election.

Results for migrants who have been here longer were similar to those for New Zealand-born voters, with 18 per cent and 16 per cent respectively not voting.

Lochan and other ethnic leaders are organising pre-election forums to encourage their communities to vote on September 20.

"We want our people to know who they're voting for and be fully informed about party policies and how they affect them."

Some migrants don't vote because they're too busy, disinterested in politics or don't feel their needs are being addressed by government, he said.

But the 2013 Census results show they are an increasingly significant group. A quarter of New Zealand's population was born overseas and the number of people of Asian ethnicity has almost doubled since 2001.

Thirty-nine per cent of the Auckland population is made up of migrants and nearly one in four are Asian.

Lochan said it's about time ethnic people were properly represented in politics.

"The Office of Ethnic Affairs is doing a good job but it's a small part of the Department of Internal Affairs. There is a Ministry of Maori Affairs and a Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, why can't we have a Ministry of Ethnic Affairs?

"If we have a well-funded ministry then it can address all the needs and concerns that affect ethnic groups."

Lochan said the top issues for migrants are law and order, discrimination, immigration and employment law and improved support services for former refugees.

"These people are welcomed when they arrive but once they get into the community, they're let go of. They come from war-stricken countries and have been affected psychologically.

"There should be a period in which they are given assistance to come to terms with life in this country and to help them settle properly."

Auckland Refugee Community Coalition public relations officer Kafeba Mundele agrees the resettlement process is inadequate.

New Zealand accepts 750 refugees a year and about 70 per cent of them live in Auckland. But their political needs are not being met, he said.

There should be more employment, health and education provisions to help them integrate. People are disengaged with politics because of the lack of support they receive as well as the stigma associated with the word refugee, he said.

"The background of people, where they come from, whether they are educated is not taken into account. They are viewed by politicians as illiterate and as people who live from hand-to-mouth.

"People ask ‘why should I go and waste my time voting for a government that doesn't properly help me to resettle'?"

Coalition chairman Abann Yor agrees. Former refugees bring something rich to New Zealand culture, but that's not often how they are treated, he said.

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One of his roles is to make sure they realise voting is safe and an important part of citizenship.

Coalition women's co-ordinator Yehuala Aboye said females from patriarchal societies and rural areas are unaccustomed to participating in politics and the language barrier can be a problem.

"I feel women need information and to be aware of what their political voice means and how it will have an impact. We need to actively involve these women, not only in the election but in the long term integration process."

Go to elections.org.nz to enrol to vote before August 20. Election day is September 20.

- East And Bays Courier

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