When doors keep closing for refugees
Rejection emails choke his inbox and the door keeps being slammed in his face.
Tewodros Demisse, known as Teddy, is just one of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers on a benefit because no-one will give him a job.
A recent report revealed just two of 33 Bhutanese refugees found jobs within 20 months of arriving in New Zealand.
The study comes as the government looks to cut refugee dependence on the state in a policy overhaul.
A leaked review document reveals 57 per cent of working-age quota refugees are beneficiaries, compared with 12 per cent of the wider population.
Demisse fled Ethiopia as a teenager in the 1990s, looking for a better life in New Zealand. But it has not been easy.
He has tried everything to get work – gaining a computer science degree, offering to volunteer, sending out hundreds of applications and door-knocking employers.
He said he would be happy to take retail work at a computer store, or a call-centre job, but the rejection letters were piling up.
"I spend most of my time looking for jobs. Sometimes I feel lonely and bad because I can't find any work.
"I've come to the reality that it is just getting tougher and tougher to get a job."
Despite all the hardship, he has no regrets about moving here. "Coming here was the best decision of my life."
Refugee Services chief executive Heather Hayden said refugees and asylum seekers often fell to the bottom of the heap in job applications, a problem made worse by the current competitive job market.
"When they come to New Zealand they are so resilient, so strong, so determined to make a new life. The key thing is to be able to get a job."
Poor English skills, lack of work experience and foreign qualifications are one barrier, "but they also come up against discrimination, which is very sad," Hayden said.
Department of Labour researchers tracked a group of Bhutanese from refugee camps in Nepal through to their New Zealand homes.
Almost two years after arriving, 31 of the 33 relied on benefits despite half of the group being employed during their time in refugee camps.
Department of Labour spokesman Stephen Dunstan said many refugees lived in camps for a long time and had unrealistic expectations of their new life in New Zealand.
"In the case of the Bhutanese, they lived in camps in Nepal for 18 years. Getting used to living and working independently in a new country takes time."
Since the study was carried out, booklets have been introduced which are given to refugees before they leave the camps to give them a clearer picture of life in New Zealand.
A Refugee Services programme set up last year – Pathways to Employment – had proven successful in Waikato and Wellington. About 200 refugees had already been offered support and work experience to boost their job prospects.
Electrical engineer Saman Korkess, originally from Iraq, arrived in New Zealand in 2009 looking for a safer home for his family.
He worked in a kebab shop after failing to get a job in his field but after completing the programme he found a position with KiwiRail.
"I'm lucky to find my job and workplace. I love my job," he said.
Refugee Services will extend the programme if funding became available. New Zealand accepts up to 750 mandated refugees for resettlement a year.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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