'I believe I am not a refugee anymore', but I shouldn't have to sacrifice my culture stuff nation

Rezvan left Iran as a young girl and lived in Indonesia before her family came to New Zealand.

Rezvan left Iran as a young girl and lived in Indonesia before her family came to New Zealand.

Rezvan left Iran with her parents when she was just a little girl. Today she identifies as a New Zealander, but doesn't believe being accepted should mean sacrificing her culture or beliefs.

The word "refugee" reminds me of people who moved from their country to go somewhere else, somewhere safer, somewhere where they could have a better life and future.

I did not realise when we left Iran that things would never be the same. I thought only that we were going to travel, that we would come back soon, not be gone six or seven years and never return to live.

New Zealand, it's time to take a stand on refugees

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My mum cried at the airport. I tugged on her sleeve when we boarded the plane and asked why she was crying. I was only 10 years old and didn't truly understand what was happening to us.

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I used to consider myself a refugee. In Indonesia, I did not go to school and we did not have a normal life. It was not my country. I personally believe that I am not a refugee anymore.

New Zealand seemed like the most beautiful place when we first arrived. The people were different. It was really clean and the houses were much nicer than we had ever experienced.

I had missed two-and-a-half years of school and when I started again they held me back one year. Studying was not hard, I caught up quickly and my English improved just as fast.

It did not feel like this massive thing had happened, leaving my family and country. I was still very little when we left and was able to adapt to this new place. Everything seemed normal. I was able to take the changes in stride.

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It was much harder for my mum, she had left her whole family. I still had her and dad, but she didn't have anyone. I would see her crying sometimes.

"Why are you crying? Let's Skype the family back home."

New Zealanders often stare at me because of the way I wear my scarf. Muslim girls will usually wear their scarf in a way that completely covers the hair.

In my country, most women do not cover all of their hair and this simply is because we are not as strict about hair like other Muslim cultures are. No-one makes comments but sometimes I get weird looks for wearing my scarf this way.

People's opinions do not affect me because I know who I am. I don't have to change for anyone. It is the personality that matters. It is the heart that matters. I am a nice person and a kind person; people should not look at the "outside" and judge me.

The stigmas surrounding Muslims and Islam are worse than the stigmas that surround other refugees. The stories are negative and horrible; they think that we are bad or dangerous.

The media depicts Muslims as being terrorists, especially when they wear black clothes or scarves. Kiwis get frustrated when women wear hijab. It is not like that: we are just practising our religion.

They need to hear our stories, but more than that must happen before things change. They need to get to know us and our culture. When they would talk to us and truly know us, they would not feel that danger.

I still see New Zealand as a home that has a lot of different cultures, people and beliefs. Everyone has the right to live the way they want. I feel a sense of belonging here.

As told to Unicef New Zealand with the support of Changemakers Refugee Forum. Unicef New Zealand stands for every child so they can have a childhood.

Stuff.co.nz and Unicef NZ are working together to share stories about communities and individuals around the world affected by disaster, poverty and violence.

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