Refugees bring wider families

By Lynley Bilby

Lynley Bilby reports on the far-reaching consequences of taking in refugees and their far-flung families.

Laila Basiri with her grandfather Qurban Ali and father Shahwali at the family auto mechanic business. Photo / Michael Craig
Laila Basiri with her grandfather Qurban Ali and father Shahwali at the family auto mechanic business. Photo / Michael Craig

Teenage Tampa survivor Laila Basiri begins crying as she recounts being thrown over the deep, swirling ocean to the deck of a ship that would be the passage to her new life.

"There was a big, huge gap between the wooden boat and the Tampa. I was freaking out that I might fall because I could see the sea and then it disappeared. They were throwing people up and then catching you. That was the most scariest part of all."

For Laila, 16, her parents and two older brothers, the escape from war-torn Afghanistan is a ghastly episode with a silver lining; a fresh start in a new land.

Her Hazara father and uncle now have a successful New Lynn mechanic workshop and Laila, a Year 12 Waitakere College student, plans to study a conjoint law and international and global studies degree.

She's also looking forward to seeing 10 cousins and an aunt and uncle sponsored by her mother to join them when the Immigration Service gives the green light.

According to the Immigration Service, every unaccompanied boy from the Tampa brought an average five extra family members to New Zealand.

The Herald on Sunday can reveal the 36 unaccompanied teenage boys had a further 207 family members join them under a refugee family reunification category during 2003 and 2004.

The exact figure of all extended family members related to the Tampa boys - including grand parents, aunts, uncles, nieces and their partners and dependent children - isn't known. The Immigration Service said it's impossible to identify which category they might have applied to come into the country.

The family reunification category allows refugees to sponsor immediate family to join them.

Immediate family is defined as a spouse and unmarried dependent children under 24 years of age.

There were 253 immediate family members who arrived in the country related to the 131 Tampa refugees.

Overall, New Zealand accepted 208 Afghan refugees from the MV Tampa, including 131 people straight from the Tampa and another 77 who underwent screening on Nauru by the United Nations.

Laila says having family is important in a foreign land.

"They will support you. Friends will come and go but family will always support you."

A former Immigration Minister - who changed the Immigration Act to detain boat people indefinitely after a ship packed with asylum seekers was reported to be heading for New Zealand - said this week he had misgivings about allowing extended family of refugees.

Tuariki John Delamare, now an immigration consultant, warned an unchecked criminal element was entering the country and tighter screening was needed.

"If it was up to me I would institute lie detector tests." He said there were a "significant" number of immigrants entering the country under refugee categories who were "bad people from day one".

Refugee Council spokesperson Gary Poole said having relatives also living in a new land often meant refugees successfully integrated into all areas of life.

"When people have immediate families with them then they know these people are safe.

"If they have extended family back in dangerous situations, it is very difficult for people to settle in their new country as they constantly live with the fear they can be harmed."

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said the priority resettlement process of Tampa refugees was a one-off and New Zealand now has a preference for resettling family groups. He said New Zealand's Immigration Service would have the final say on the refugees it resettles under the Australian arrangement.

But for now Laila is very excited about once more living in the same city as her many cousins.

"It's really fun to have more family with you; you feel like they're your friends and your family members so you'll never feel left out."


Numbers

433 aboard the Tampa in 2001
150 sent to New Zealand
36 unaccompanied boys
207 family members later joined boys

- Herald on Sunday

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