Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

At home in spite of racism

Fatumata Bah has been in New Zealand since she was 3. Photo / Lincoln Tan
Fatumata Bah has been in New Zealand since she was 3. Photo / Lincoln Tan

Fatumata Bah was out shopping when a European woman asked if she would like a "free ride back to the airport" to go back to where she came from.

Originally from Mecca, Saudi Arabia, her family fled to New Zealand from the Sierra Leone civil war, and she was a toddler when her parents arrived here as refugees.

"For me that was the first time I experienced this kind of really regressive form of racism," the 22-year-old AUT student said.

"As far as I'm concerned, we are all guests of God on this earth ... so this idea that a group of individuals own this land or not is really quite absurd.

"I came here when I was 3, New Zealand is what I know, I work, I pay my taxes, I contribute to New Zealand society ... I am home."

Miss Bah was one of the 100 chosen from among 4588 applicants around the world to attend the 33Sixty Commonwealth Young Leaders Programme in Glasgow, Scotland, last month where she was New Zealand's representative.

She will be sharing her refugee experience on Wednesday, telling other young refugees that it is not impossible to overcome obstacles and succeed in New Zealand.

"Refugee success stories are not told often enough," she said. "We're not seeing it, so we don't think that it's happening, but if you see somebody else do it, it kind of gives you hope that you can do it too."

Miss Bah is one of the speakers at the "Don't fence me in!" refugee forum taking place at AUT on June 1.

At the forum, AUT professor of diversity Edwina Pio will promote getting New Zealanders to "adopt" refugee families.

"Imagine if a few families get together across the country and adopt every single refugee family ... to mutually share their experience, skills, joys and sorrows," said Professor Pio. "This then is the preparation needed to transition refugees to cross that nebulous territory of 'no man's land' to jump over the fence."

Race Relations Commissioner Susan Devoy said refugees came here for protection and a chance at a second life.

"New Zealanders are doing a good job resettling refugees in our country," Dame Susan said. "The generosity from everyday people and families is overwhelming, but as we all know as time goes on, generosity can wear thin.

"So we need to understand that we are in this for the long haul and consistently support refugees to become Kiwis."

- NZ Herald

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