More manaaki needed for our refugee whānau

By Ellipsister (Co-Editor)

On Friday 4 September 2015, the National Party confirmed it would deny leave (this coming week)  for both the Labour Party and Green Party to table emergency legislation in the House that would allow for an emergency intake of, and an increase in the annual quota of refugees accepted into NZ (respectively). Many opposition supporters and media have criticised this decision by the government demanding immediate action to proactively respond to this humanitarian crisis.

One of the concerns of the National Party will be that a win by the opposition would make the government look ineffective and not in control and this is a perception they’ll certainly want to avoid. There is also the fact that the government can respond to the situation without introducing any legislation into the house, and without conceding a win to the opposition, since the refugee programme is primarily a Cabinet decision and under the current cabinet agreement, the government can already accept 50 individuals as part of their emergency intake programme. I’m unsure, however, whether this would be similar to Helen Clark’s decision to accept an emergency intake of 150 refugees on the Tampa in 2001, where those individuals formed part of the existing 750 annual quota. Regardless, given the slow response by the government, it is difficult to believe that any measures that may be taken will be the result of genuine concern, but rather because of both public and international pressure to take action.

On the basis that there is increasing public interest in raising the annual refugee quota, there is a high probability that the planned 2016 review will simply be brought forward to quell the disquiet. Of note, in 1987 the refugee quota was set at 800 individuals and in 1997 was reduced under a National led government to 750 where it has remained since. There is here then, an opportunity for National to remedy their contemptible 1997 decision to reduce our refugee intake. As others have pointed out also, with NZ holding a seat on the UN Security Council, there are likely expectations from the international community that we take a lead (with the other UNSC member states) in the response to this crisis. The fact that all three confidence and supply (C & S) parties support an increase in the annual refugee intake as well as emergency provisions, is perhaps another aspect that will likely influence whatever action National may take this week.

What I remain mindful of, is how we manaaki refugees on arrival in NZ. At the moment, the primary provider for receiving refugees accepted by NZ is the Red Cross who run a ‘six-week orientation programme at the Department of Immigration’s Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre’ before resettling refugees in five communities around New Zealand – a decision that is made by the government.

As the Red Cross explain:

Resettlement is a life-changing experience as refugees are often resettled to a country where the society, language and culture are completely different from their own and much is new to them. It is both challenging and rewarding for these individuals.

There are good reasons for the six week orientation programme that deals predominantly with practical matters such as setting up bank accounts and understanding the local laws, but also physical and mental health checks to determine the care needed (if any). However, often when people talk of resettling refugees it is sadly in assimilatory terms where the things that matter are how well refugees can speak English, and their willingness to walk the Pākehā world.

It is for this reason that I consider Māori could actively participate in resettlement initiatives to help heal the wairua of our refugee whānau, and to awhi their connection to our whenua so that they can rebuild their lives here supported by our enduring customs. Through the principles of whakawhanaungatanga (establishing relationships) and manaakitanga (care, generosity and hospitality) and whakapapa we could ensure that retaining a connection to their whenua and whānau abroad, while rebuilding their lives in this country is an important part of the resettlement process. This could potentially be achieved through multilateral partnerships between hapū, iwi and hapori Māori, the government, (relevant) embassies and local organisations that provide services to and for refugees to deliver resettlement initiatives.

We cannot forget that refugees arrive here through reasons beyond their control and as such are forced to live in a new land and within a culture alien to their own.  As tangata whenua we have an obligation to ensure that people arriving in this country – especially those who were forcibly disconnected from their whenua through the trauma of armed conflict and/or persecution are received with the care, generosity and aroha, that our tikanga demands and are supported to achieve their aspirations.

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