Faces of Auckland: Refugee a 'gift' to MP

00:55, Apr 26 2016
Thuten Kesang
Thuten Kesang was the first Tibetan refugee to call New Zealand home.

Auckland is one of the most multicultural cities in the world with more than a third of its citizens born overseas and boasting more than 200 nationalities living here.

Faces of Auckland is a series talking to those who have left all corners of the world to make their home here, reminding us why Auckland is so good.


Thuten Kesang
NEW HOME: Thuten Kesang was the first Tibetan refugee to call New Zealand home.

Thuten Kesang says it took the intervention of senior politicians to make his journey from Tibet to Auckland possible.

He was the first ever Tibetan refugee to call New Zealand home when he arrived in 1967.

At the time he was 23-years-old and moved in with a sponsor family he had met in Northern India.

The family helped arrange a job for him at a printing company and spent months appealing to the government to allow him to live in Auckland as a skilled migrant worker.

"I was a refugee although I didn't come under the government refugee program," he said.

"My application for coming to New Zealand went before parliament and I was actually a gift from Tom Shand, the labour minister, to Sir Ronald Algie, who was MP for Remuera and speaker of parliament.

"(Shand) said to Sir Ronald you have spoken so much about this Tibetan refugee, I'm going to give him as a gift to you. I will let the young man come."

He is the only one of his family to come here. Kesang left behind a turbulent period of Chinese occupation in Tibet.He was at school in Northern India in 1962 when Chinese forces began capturing Tibetans.

His parents were arrested and later died in prison, while he was able to achieve his aim of "getting as far away as possible from China".

The 69-year-old now runs his own printing business in Beach Haven alongside his wife and business partner Gwen.

They have two daughters Tsering and Elizabeth, and two grandchildren.

Kesang says Auckland is the only place he has truly felt at home. Apart from his business, he is active in the community as president of the Auckland Multicultural Society, chair of Friends of Tibet, and a recipient of a 2002 Queen's Service Medal for public service.

He said moving to Auckland was the defining moment of his life.

"I was very glad to be able to come here," he said.

"I had a good knowledge of what New Zealand was about before I came. I looked at the photos of Maori people and I thought they look like me, so I thought I'll fit in very well."

That ease of settling in proved true for Kesang from the moment he arrived. He said he has never encountered any prejudice, only curiosity from Kiwis about Tibet.

"I remember when I arrived the hardest thing was to convince people that I spoke English," he said.

"They couldn't understand that someone from Tibet had learned English, or that I knew all the songs on the radio. But we bonded over pop songs." 


Is NZ tolerant of different cultures and are you able to express you cultural identity fully here?

I've felt more at home here than anywhere else. As far as I'm concerned I've never felt prejudice against me at all. When I first came there were no Tibetan Buddhist centres or anywhere to go... Now they are all over and there are 50-odd Tibetans living in Auckland. We meet up regularly. 


Have you ever travelled in New Zealand outside of Auckland and where to?

I've been all over New Zealand - down to Invercargill, Queenstown, Wellington, Gisborne, Rotorua, I've been everywhere man. I love to go to other parts of the country.

What is best about being an Aucklander? 

The best thing is it is where all the business is. This is the business hub. It has become my place of work and my home.

If I was Auckland mayor I would ....

I would make sure that road infrastructure is well cared for and build rail to the airport. It's an important thing for us because we are becoming too congested in traffic. 

Do you watch rugby and do you support the All Blacks?

I'm an avid rugby fan and love the All Blacks. I love all sports.