Refugees will soon be screened for mental health problems before they get to New Zealand in an effort to reduce the chance of "surprises" such as last week's attempted aircraft hijacking by a Somali woman.
A review of New Zealand's refugee resettlement system by accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers is believed to recommend mental health assessments at "point of source", and intensive case management for traumatised refugees for at least two years.
The Labour Department refused to comment on the report yesterday because it "has yet to be finalised".
But the chief executive of the refugee mental health agency Refugees As Survivors (RAS), Gary Poole, said he was already talking to the department's immigration division about screening refugees before they arrive - not to keep out difficult cases, but to ensure they got the support they needed here.
"The refugee agencies and Immigration NZ are working with PricewaterhouseCoopers on better point-of-source assessments so we don't get so many surprises," he said. "We need to know more about the needs of the people we are bringing in."
Somali woman Asha Ali Abdille, 33, allegedly attacked the pilots of a plane flying from Blenheim to Christchurch with a knife last Friday, injuring two pilots and a female passenger.
Peter Cotton of RMS Refugee Resettlement said he had known Abdille since she arrived in New Zealand as a 19-year-old in 1994 after being separated from her family in the Somali civil war and raped in a makeshift refugee camp in Kenya.
"This is a case in which the agency has had a longstanding involvement with her and made many efforts to be supportive over many years," he said.
Mr Cotton said he was involved in the talks which could see staff from RAS, and possibly RMS, go to refugee camps overseas to help select refugees for New Zealand.
"Similar agencies in other countries are involved, and we have been at some times in the past, because we are looking for different factors," he said.
"Immigration tends to look for accuracy of biodata and whether people are who they say they are in relationships. We are focused more on issues that are likely to relate to resettlement, and an ability to plan better and support their needs on arrival."
He said New Zealand should be commended for allocating part of its annual quota of 750 refugees specifically for "women at risk". He said 19 per cent of refugees surveyed when they arrived here last year had been tortured. More than 80 per cent had "major issues of severe trauma".
RAS assesses all refugees who arrive at the Mangere refugee centre. It established a mobile team last year for refugees with continuing mental problems in Auckland. The agency also has a branch in Wellington. There are no specialist refugee mental health services in the other areas where refugees have been settled.