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 second part of the series, editor Janine Baalbergen looks at how those refugees who've already settled in the wider region have begun to fit in.

"While every refugee's story is different and their anguish personal, they all share a common thread of uncommon courage – the courage not only to survive, but to persevere and rebuild their shattered lives." ― Antonio Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

"Your enemy is not the refugee. Your enemy is the one who made him a refugee." ― Tariq Ramadan

Levin is already hosting a few refugees, mainly as a place of work, and has done so for some time. Out of Palmerston North the Red Cross is helping refugees who arrive there to integrate into society and it has contacts with several Horowhenua employers.

Civilians flee west Mosul as fighting between Iraqi forces and Isis militants intensifies. Photo / IFRC
Civilians flee west Mosul as fighting between Iraqi forces and Isis militants intensifies. Photo / IFRC

"A lot of refugees come from self-sustaining societies, " said Kevin Morris, who is migration programme manager for the Red Cross in Palmerston North. "They know how to grow food, so work on farms or market gardens and orchards is ideal for them."


A Place to Call Home: Part 1

Morris said he has worked a lot with people from the Pacific Islands over the years and also works with prisoners who are released early from jail and need to find a way back into society. Morris said the Government has a range of specialist programmes to help all sorts of people settle into New Zealand society.

Red Cross refugee services cover a range of issues, from integration of children into school, to housing and language skills to assist refugees settle in. "But all they want initially is a safe place to call home."

Some refugee families have been on the road for years and have spent considerable time in various refugee camps, sometimes even decades. When they finally arrive in New Zealand they first go to the refugee centre in Mangere in Auckland.

They spend six weeks there and go through health checks, have their English language skills assessed and go through an orientation programme that tells them what life is like in New Zealand. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) runs this and decides where in the country the individuals or families will be settled.

"This depends on availability of housing. They won't go anywhere unless there is a signed lease on a home for them," said Morris

Because housing is becoming an issue in the big cities in general the Government is opting for placing refugees in the regions.

"Once they arrive here we look for basic furniture for the house and call for donations for other household items." The Red Cross volunteers locally play an important role in this, Morris said.

Not only do they need to fit in, find work, get kids in schools, some have considerable trauma to work through. "If locals are willing to stand by them and assist where needed and be their friends, that will go a long way towards helping them feel at home."

Morris said all refugees who arrive here have been registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and have official refugee status. "That is a long process with extensive checks. Refugee status is not easy to get."

While still overseas somewhere they are given the choice of country to go to. Once released from the Refugee Centre in Mangere they hop on the bus to Palmerston North, where workers from, in Palmerston North's case, the Red Cross refugee services will pick them up.

"They take them to their new home, where a prepared cultural meal awaits them, made by someone from their community. We try and surround them with as many people from their ethnicity as possible."

Morris said Levin will be an ideal place for many refugees because the traveling distance to both Wellington and Palmerston North will allow them to connect with others from their ethnic group easily, once they are settled in.

Gree Hita, based in Palmerton North, passed her restricted licence test with help from the Open Road programme. Photo / New Zealand Red Cross
Gree Hita, based in Palmerton North, passed her restricted licence test with help from the Open Road programme. Photo / New Zealand Red Cross

In Palmerston North there are people from places such as Congo, Bhutan, Myanmar (Muslims as well as Christians and Karen), Afghanistan and Palestine.

Morris said several of his clients who live in Palmerston North or Feilding but work in Horowhenua are now so happily settled they refuse to move to Horowhenua. "Because they're home now, and part of a community that has accepted them."

The newcomers will go through a 12-month process of resettlement once here. They get help with finding work, getting kids in school, language lessons if needed, a process that is led by a team of social workers, many of whom are former refugees themselves.

Refugees have the same rights as permanent residents and are entitled to a benefit if needed.

Although many come from poorer countries, a lot of well-educated people are among refugees, including lawyers, teachers, doctors, midwives, nurses and other medical professionals as well as university staff.

It is still not known who will be in charge of the resettlement process for those coming to Levin.

•Next week: A Place to Call Home - Part 3