Refugees

Levin will be one of a number of regional centres to house refugees from next year. In a new series the Horowhenua Chronicle looks at what creates refugees and what happens to them on the journey to New Zealand. We will investigate how refugees are prepared for life in our country and what our local community can do to help these people find a safe, new place they can call home. In this first part of the series, editor Janine Baalbergen looks at the plight of the refugee, who they are and where they come from.

"No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark ... You only leave home when home won't let you stay." ― British writer Warsan Shire, born in Kenya to Somali parents.

"What greater sorrow than being forced to leave behind my native earth?" ― Euripides, in his play Electra.

Can you even imagine having to leave home, suddenly, in the dead of night, leaving behind what you have, even who you are, perhaps some familiy members too, as the sound of gunfire gets closer.

Or screeching tyres of multiple vehicles stopping outside your family home, sounds of doors being kicked in, the smell of fire as assailants burn down houses, panicked, screaming voices of your neighbours being shot, kicked savagely or dragged from their beds, wake you out of a deep sleep?

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You always knew trouble was coming because others do not agree with your lifestyle, your faith, your ethnicity or language, but you never thought you'd have to hit the road and abandon all to just save your life.

That is pretty much the crux of the life story of many refugees, no matter where they are from. Leaving home was not a choice for them and though many dream of one day going home most know that that is highly unlikely.

Members of the Iraqi Red Crescent help new arrivals at a reception center outside Hamam Alil camp, where families fleeing fighting in West Mosul are arriving. Photo / IFRC
Members of the Iraqi Red Crescent help new arrivals at a reception center outside Hamam Alil camp, where families fleeing fighting in West Mosul are arriving. Photo / IFRC

Starting afresh in a new country is hard work for the best of us ... but for refugees this is far more harrowing.

The United Nations defines a refugee as someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence.

A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so.

War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries.

Two-thirds of all refugees worldwide currently come from just five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia.

Wikipedia says the term "refugee" was once used to describe an event marking large scale migration of a specific population from a place of origin.

The English word comes from the French word refuge, meaning "hiding place".

It refers to "shelter or protection from danger or distress", and comes from Latin words fugere, "to flee", and refugium, "a taking [of] refuge, place to flee back to".

In Europe the term refugee was first applied to French Huguenots, who migrated from France a number of times over the centuries.

The word meant "one seeking asylum", until around 1914 when it evolved to mean "one fleeing home", applied in this instance to civilians in Flanders heading away to escape fighting in World War I.

Members of the Iraqi Red Crescent distribute food to people displaced by fighting in West Mosul, at a reception center outside Hamam Alil IDP camp. Photo / IFRC
Members of the Iraqi Red Crescent distribute food to people displaced by fighting in West Mosul, at a reception center outside Hamam Alil IDP camp. Photo / IFRC

Amnesty International says that by the end of 2015, 65.3 million people worldwide had been forced to leave their homes as a result of conflict, persecution, violence and human rights violations.

Of these:
•21.3 million people had to escape to another country. These people are referred to as refugees.
•3.2 million people have sought safety in another country. These are people seeking asylum.
•40.8 million people were displaced within their own country. These people are described as internally displaced persons.
•Right now the vast majority of the world's refugees live in developing regions, with half of the 20 million refugees in just 10 countries.

At the end of 2015, of the 21.3 million refugees:
•5.2 million Palestinian refugees reside in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon or Syria.
•4.4 million refugees were hosted in sub-Saharan Africa.
•More than 4 million people were hosted in Europe, which is an increase of 1.3 million from the previous year.
•Of the 4.4 million refugees in Europe, 2.5 million refugees lived in Turkey, most came from Syria and Iraq.
•The Asia and Pacific region hosted 3.8 million refugees.
•2.7 million refugees were hosted in the Middle East and North Africa.
•The Americas hosted 746,800 refugees.

Refugees have been part of the fabric of life in Aotearoa New Zealand since the 1840s.

Ann Beaglehole, a New Zealand novelist and historian who was born in Hungary and came to New Zealand as a little girl in 1956, writes at TeAra.govt.nz that small groups of people who were in effect refugees settled in New Zealand in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Among them were Danes fleeing suppression of their language and culture under German occupation in the 1870s, Jews escaping persecution in Tsarist Russia from the 1880s, French Huguenots in the 1890s, also in flight from religious persecution.

Then there were refugees from Nazis, Polish refugees after World War II and displaced persons from around Europe, Hungarian refugees in the 50s, disabled refugees, Chinese refugees, Russian Christians from China, Czechoslovak refugees, Asian from Uganda, Chilean refugees, Societ Jews, Bahai's and Assyrian Christians from the Iran-Iraq War and so on.

A quota programme has been in place since 1987, when New Zealand promised to take in 800 refugees each year and in addition to that there were small numbers of asylum seekers each year (Ann Beaglehole, Refugees, Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/refugees/print (accessed April 23, 2019).

Currently refugees arriving here are people from conflict areas such as the Rohingya from Myanmar, Afghanis who assisted the NZ army as interpreters and people fleeing from Syria, and as well as displaced persons from Bhutan.

In the second part of this series, the Horowhenua Chronicle looks at the journey beyond the journey - the process that begins once the refugees arrive in New Zealand.