'I have been lucky' - refugee

Belonging to groups is important when integrating into the community, according to a former refugee.

There is no refugee community in South Canterbury, however, one of the first refugees to New Zealand 30 years ago has made Timaru her home.

Yesterday was World Refugee Day. New Zealand accepts about 750 refugees annually, far more than when the Timaru woman arrived.

Although she moved to New Zealand in the late 1970s, because of family still in Iran she chooses to remain anonymous.

She left Iran in 1977 to study in the Philippines. After she finished her studies, she moved to New Zealand as her brother was already in Christchurch.

Six months later the war between Iran and Iraq began and because of religious reasons, her passport to return home was not renewed.

"Over 30 years ago as a religious refugee, New Zealand wouldn't accept you unless you had a family connection."

Only one other refugee from the 200 students in the Philippines moved to New Zealand. The rest went to Canada or Australia.

Her time studying in the Philippines meant she could speak English, however, she had to learn to understand the Kiwi accent and expressions.

She said being a refugee can be very lonely and sad as it was not a choice.

"They can't go back to their own homeland ... I would never have come here if my brother wasn't here.

"[Being a refugee] is different to migrating, you come with the hope it works out."

Her connections in New Zealand with her brother and the Baha'i faith, and later marrying a New Zealander, made it easy to be part of the community.

"I think I have been lucky I ended up in New Zealand. It was a good choice. Although forced on me, I am happy here."

Since she moved here, the situation regarding New Zealand accepting refugees has changed. New Zealand has opened up, giving refugees a chance when their own countries won't.

Although she would like to go back to Iran one day, she said not under the present climate, as there was still a lot of discrimination against her religion.

The Timaru Herald