It is with huge dismay that I have just read the refugee services team at the Mangere Resettlement Centre is being disbanded and the services contracted out to the private sector. My experience at Mangere was life-changing for me and woke me up to the huge challenges refugees face and how their fate is so reliant on the mercy of others. The Mangere team were fantastic – they had an in-depth understanding of the cultural, social and economic issues facing refugees as they started life in a new country. It involved a number of groups all working together to help the refugees adjust to a new home. This is the worst possible decision and will result a huge loss of institutional knowledge and the destruction of a dedicated and compassionate team. Below is the blog I wrote of my experience at the time – humans beings should not be reduced to cost centres!
For the last six weeks, I have been working on a project for Immigration New Zealand putting together an event to mark World Refugee Day on June 20th. This has involved reading many stories by former refugees of how they came to be refugees and what that life entailed. The stories had a common thread; no-one chooses to be a refugee and everyone longs go home. But for most, it is impossible. War, famine, crime, and corruption have driven them out and a refugee camp is their only hope. And often, only the very lucky have made it that far, with many falling on the road. I didn’t read one story where I wasn’t crying by the end. A twist of fate, and a life is overturned. It takes courage to leave your home, even when there is no alternative, and it takes luck and resilience to reach safety. Millions languish in refugees camps throughout the world, and all they want is a chance to start living their lives.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) cares for about 36.4 million people with about 10.4 million holding refugee status worldwide. Only about 1 per cent get resettled, with New Zealand taking a quote of 750 a year. It is even more disheartening to realise that it is simply man’s inhumanity to man that creates refugees. Persecution and war drive people to flee and to seek a decent life, and we should help them if we can with compassion and understanding. The UNHCR has an excellent site, so if you do nothing else, make the effort to read the stories and learn more about what it is to be a refugee. As Eli Wiesel wrote, the opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.