For tomorrow's World Refugee Day the Herald looks at how three young people have made lives for themselves here.

Rez Ricardo, 23

Kurdish, born in Pakistan
Law and arts student

Twenty-three-year-old Rez Ricardo was born a refugee. Her Kurdish family had fled Iraq for Pakistan in the hope of receiving aid from the United Nations.

Ms Ricardo was born three years after her family left Iraq and spent most of her life, until the age of 6, living in Pakistani refugee camps.

The law student said that turbulent time was characterised by crowded living conditions, mass protests and hunger strikes.

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It is these memories that drive her towards her goal of becoming an international human rights lawyer.

"I'm using my own misfortune to pay back the opportunities I was given, and if I can help others along the way that is what I want to do.

"I want to do this because I remember my situation and being stuck in it for so long."

Already Ms Ricardo, who is in her last year of a conjoint bachelor of law and arts degree at the University of Auckland, has started helping other refugees.

She has worked as a human rights intern at UN-Habitat in Kenya, and will finish her degree at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law, before returning to New Zealand in the new year to start work at law firm Chapman Tripp.

Ms Ricardo hopes her time spent in commercial law will provide her with a good foundation for her "ultimate goal" of helping refugees.

Mohammed Al Jamal, 22

Palestinian, born in Iraq
Sport and recreation student

Just five years ago Mohammed Al Jamal didn't speak English and had never been to school. Today the 22-year-old speaks English fluently, is studying sport and recreation at Manukau Institute of Technology and is well on his way to fulfilling his goal of becoming a personal trainer and a football coach.

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"I want to help change people's lives, with their fitness," he said.

Mr Al Jamal has also been recognised, with an award from the Mangere-Otahuhu Local Board for his contribution to the community, where he volunteers as a youth leader for the refugee-migrant creative arts organisation Mixit.

With Mixit he's responsible for helping organise the weekend workshops for refugee and migrant youth, organising food, transport and being at the organisation's base every second week to help out.

The Iraq-born Palestinian spent most of his life in Iraq, before coming to New Zealand as a teenage refugee and settling in Auckland with his mother, father and three brothers.

Mr Al Jamal said it felt good to be living in New Zealand with his family, knowing they could get out and about on the streets safely.

Mohammed Al Jamal, sport and recreation student, and Hana Mender, nursing student. Photo / Supplied
Mohammed Al Jamal, sport and recreation student, and Hana Mender, nursing student. Photo / Supplied

"It's easy here, way better ... it's safe," he said. "[Life in Iraq is] dangerous, you can die anytime, you don't know when."

However, Mr Al Jamal said it was not so easy when he first arrived, with the different culture and language.

But thanks in part to Mixit, he felt he had gained confidence in his ability to speak English and was making the most of his other talents. He said the group offered a creative space for people of all cultures.

"I'm a Muslim, I met people who are Christian, who have different cultures, from Africa, Iraq.

"We come here as a family and talk and help each other," he said. "That's what's great about New Zealand, you mix your culture."

Hana Mender, 20

Eritrean, born in Sudan
Nursing student

When 20-year-old Hana Mender came to New Zealand as a teenage refugee from Sudan, she made herself sick just to avoid going to school.

"I wasn't just a teenager, but one in a different country, with a different language," she said. "It was very difficult, I can't lie, I made myself sick a couple of times just because I didn't want to go to school and I guess the language added a bit of pressure to that as well."

But Ms Mender said her sensible side won out eventually.

"I'm a logical person, so I looked at it this way and said to myself, 'I'm not going to go anywhere, my family aren't going to decide to move to a country where I speak the language, so I might as well decide to get with the programme - the faster I learn, the better it's going to get'."

Today, the nursing student in her second year of a bachelor's degree at AUT, has grown from being the 13-year-old who'd make herself sick to avoid going to class, to being a mentor for other teenagers struggling to decide what they want to do.

Ms Mender works at refugee-migrant creative arts organisation Mixit as a youth leader and also plans to establish Next Level, an online support programme for students needing advice with their tertiary study choices.

"My big picture vision is to see the New Zealand workforce filled with people who love what they do every day," she said. "In my opinion if people love what they do, then they excel in what they do."