Challenges don't end at NZ's border

NICOLA BRENNAN-TUPARA
Last updated 05:00 21/06/2013
Momina Ali
BRUCE MERCER/Fairfax NZ
SETTLING IN: Former refugees Momina Ali, left, and Sabira Nouri say it was tough fitting in at first.

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Momina Ali was only young when she was forced to flee her homeland of Djibouti to the safety of Ethiopia to escape civil unrest.

For years she lived in Ethiopia as a refugee, unable to return to her homeland in the horn of Africa.

But when she turned 13 she got word her family had been accepted into New Zealand as refugees.

New Zealand's yearly quota of refugees under the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) resettlement programme is 750, but there is a push by some to increase that to 1500.

While New Zealand was half a world away from any danger, many more barriers still stood in Miss Ali's way.

Speaking on World Refugee Day yesterday, a now 25-year-old Miss Ali shared her journey in the hope that Kiwis might better understand the struggles that came with resettling in a foreign land you had no choice to move to.

She was enrolled straight into school - at the same level as other children her age - despite having no English skills.

"I remember when I got to class I was given a test paper but I couldn't read it.

"All I could do was write my name at the top."

It was a similar scenario for 23-year-old Sabira Nouri, who arrived as a refugee from Iran at the age of 15.

Originally from Afghanistan, her family of eight were forced to flee first to Pakistan, then to Iran where they spent five years before coming to New Zealand in 2005.

"In Iran, because we were Afghan, we weren't allowed to got to school.

"So I spent five years with no school. We technically did nothing while my [older] brother did some labour work to get money for us," she said.

"But Afghans also weren't allowed to get jobs in Iran, so it had to be jobs under the table."

When she arrived in Hamilton she was excited to start school, but spending a whole day not understanding a word the teacher said was tough.

"The language was a problem, but then I still had the academic problem as well.

"I had only studied to year 5, but when I got here was a place in year 10. So there was that huge gap. It meant I just had to work extra hard."

And that she did - she is now a second year nursing student at Wintec.

Both say it took many years to finally feel at home in New Zealand.

If Miss Nouri could ask one thing of people it would be for them to be "less judgmental and more understanding".

She had a particularly hard time at school, but said people were getting better now.

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Now she never gets asked if she knows Osama Bin Laden.

Tomorrow the Waikato Refugee Forum is holding a day to bring all of Hamilton's refugee communities together.

It will kick off with football matches at Flynn Park, Hillcrest, from 10.30 to 2pm, followed by a celebration at the Migrant Resource Centre in Boundary Rd.

While it is a chance for the different refugee communities to mingle, other Hamiltonians are welcome to head along and learn more about the refugee journey.

A bonus will be a smorgasbord of ethnic food from Afghanistan, Burma, Somalia and Colombia.

Meanwhile, a "Doing Our Bit" campaign was launched yesterday to increase New Zealand's refugee quota to 1500.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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