Refugees need housing security - ChangeMakers Refugee Forum

"We've made a promise to these families to help them become New Zealanders. Doing that well, seeing them thrive, needs ...
UNICEF

"We've made a promise to these families to help them become New Zealanders. Doing that well, seeing them thrive, needs more than short term support to launch them into our society," says Tayyaba Khan.

Tayyaba Khan is the CEO of the ChangeMakers Refugee Forum in Wellington and has helped many families settle in New Zealand.

Her colleagues can support families to find a new home, but she says Government must be invested for the long haul.

"Some refugees have a really rough time in New Zealand. The government support is adequate, but it's very short term and focused only on the most basic needs like housing.

"Meeting the needs of families over the long term is more complex and goes well beyond the support structures government have in place now. Adjusting to cultural norms, learning the language, finding meaningful jobs and becoming part of the community are processes that can take years.

"We encounter a lot of racism from landlords and estate agents here in Wellington.

"There have been dozens of times when we booked appointments for a family to see a rental, but when they arrived in traditional clothing or headscarves, amazingly the apartment has 'just been rented'.

"It's happened far too many times to be a coincidence.

"There is deeply entrenched racism and discrimination in New Zealand that we encounter on a regular basis. It's never blatant enough to call out, but it's ever-present and deeply disturbing.

"Housing is the key for families who are desperate for stability. It's not uncommon for families to be reunited and then break up.

"In cases where a woman or children have come here under the Family Reunification Category, their eligibility for support is affected and they can be left in even more vulnerable circumstances.

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"When they are denied housing by discriminatory landlords, it's the children who suffer.

"We know families who move regularly and often find themselves in temporary shelters. The children have to change schools, putting them through whole new layers of stress and disruption as they try to adjust and fit in.

"These people all have harrowing stories to tell. They have been through so much. From war, political repression, and brutal cultural practises like female genital mutilation, they have been through horrors we in New Zealand can only imagine.

"We've made a promise to these families to help them become New Zealanders. Doing that well, seeing them thrive, needs more than short term support to launch them into our society.

"It's not always an easy process.

"We work hard with some families to help them understand that hitting children is not okay here in New Zealand. Whatever the norm where they're from, they just cannot continue that here, even behind closed doors.

"Often it's the children who integrate better than the parents. They learn the language quicker, make friends and pick up the culture faster. But that can be a burden for children.

"We often see situations where the children become the support for the parents. Translating what doctors say, reading documents and helping their parents get by are all very common ways kids help their parents.

"While that may seem like them simply being good kids, it can be stressful, knowing they are their parents' lifeline. We need to make sure that children get a chance to just be children.

"The refugee crisis has driven a huge amount interest in what we do. We had hundreds of offers for volunteers and we're thrilled to see how many people want to help refugees successfully become part of our society.

"In terms of the numbers of refugees the government allows, we support an increase in the quota and we can certainly help more people settle, but it's a long and complex process and the resources need to be in place to make sure it's done well.

"Even though we encounter discrimination and racism all the time, on balance New Zealanders are warm and welcoming.

"The best moments for me are when children truly become part of New Zealand culture. When they feel happy and included in school. It doesn't always happen like that, but that is the ideal we reach for."

As told to UNICEF New Zealand. UNICEF stands for every child so they can have a childhood.

About Unicef

Unicef promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. 

For more information about Unicef and its work visit: www.unicef.org.nz

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