Emergency resettlement plan needed in light of Afghans’ difficult experience in NZ

02 Oct 2023 by World Vision
Emergency resettlement plan needed in light of Afghans’ difficult experience in NZ

A new report reveals the challenges experienced by Afghan nationals who sought refuge in Aotearoa New Zealand in 2021, with many spending months in hotel rooms, and at times struggling to access mental health support, employment, and education.

World Vision New Zealand, Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand, and ActionStation commissioned a project to learn more about the resettlement experiences of the approximately 1,600 people who arrived here after escaping Afghanistan in 2021 following the Taliban’s return to power.

The report recommends the Government introduce a standard level of support for displaced people seeking refuge in Aotearoa New Zealand whether they arrive here as refugees, asylum seekers, or on special humanitarian visas.

World Vision’s Head of Advocacy and Justice, Rebekah Armstrong, says the project’s report canvassed the views of around 45 people who either arrived in Aotearoa New Zealand from Afghanistan or supported people arriving here.

“We want to acknowledge that the New Zealand Government provided emergency resettlement assistance in extremely difficult circumstances, but this report shows that there were gaps in the support offered to Afghan nationals on arrival here.

“This meant that many people struggled to access the basics they needed to thrive in Aotearoa New Zealand, including access to housing, mental health support, and pathways into employment and study. Aotearoa New Zealand offered a lifeline, but failed to provide all the tools needed for people to create fulfilling and successful lives for themselves and their families here,” Armstrong says.

She says the report sends a clear message that the Government needs to introduce a standard support system for all those who arrive in Aotearoa New Zealand for humanitarian reasons.

Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand’s Campaigns Director Lisa Woods agrees. “The Government must design a system whereby there is comprehensive support for every person needing to find a safe home in Aotearoa New Zealand, no matter how they arrive. “Ultimately, this report serves as a crucial reminder that people who have sought refuge in this country should play a key role in informing government policies,” she says.

People interviewed as part of the project raised a number of issues, including:
  • The lack of a comprehensive emergency resettlement strategy.
  • The need for a broad-ranging orientation process.
  • Difficulty accessing housing, with some families staying in hotels for up to nine months.
  • Limited access to English language classes, especially for mothers with dependent children.
  • A lack of mental health support, which was deemed critical given the sudden and dangerous way many people had to leave their country.
  • Limited support to study and work.
  • No access to family reunification for family members still in danger in Afghanistan.

Afi*, who was 16 when their family had to flee Afghanistan in 2021, says they knew they were at risk when the Taliban came to power. “We changed our home every two or so weeks, sometimes staying with friends, sometimes other places that were anonymous.”

The family were granted a visa for New Zealand, but moving to a country where they didn’t speak the language was a major challenge. “My English was so bad at that time. I didn’t know what people were saying. It was scary for me.”

Afi says they want to do their best in Aotearoa New Zealand, and that they are thankful to be here. “Now that I am here, I want to be successful. I want to finish university and I really want to start a new business for myself.”

Other accounts contained in the in the report detail the distress many Afghan nationals felt upon arrival in Aotearoa New Zealand. “I was in a bad mental state. I was really sick in the hotel because of the hardship at the airport, but nobody came to check about my mental health,” said one.

Another echoes many by expressing her concern for those left behind in Afghanistan: “I am happy here because the New Zealand government saved my life and provided community services here, but I’m worried about my husband who is left behind.”

A support worker adds, “There are a lot of issues of loss, grief and trauma. Some families have left children behind, and some children have left their parents behind. They have come here under emergency circumstances.”

Armstrong says these testimonies highlight the importance of a comprehensive approach to the provision of support.

She notes that those who arrive on special humanitarian visas, like Afghans and Ukrainians most recently, do not spend time in the Te Āhuru Mōwai o Aotearoa – Māngere Refugee Resettlement Centre (TAMA) as refugees do.

She says the six weeks at TAMA can help to give new arrivals a good background and understanding of life in Aotearoa New Zealand, along with support to establish themselves in the community.

“This six-week period can help refugees to adjust in a supportive environment, but those who do not arrive here through the refugee quota pathway have none of this assistance. We really need to see this addressed. Such orientation is important and needs to happen in a concentrated and pastoral way. Those arriving on humanitarian visas are just as deserving and in need of this kind of basic support as anyone else,” she says.

Dawit Arshak, General Manager of the Asylum Seekers Support Trust, says that providing equal access to all entitlements, regardless of how a person is granted refugee status in Aotearoa New Zealand, is a crucial step. “People who have fled Afghanistan due to life-threatening circumstances should receive the same treatment as any other refugee,” he says.

The report also recommends that the Government develop and implement an effective evacuation and resettlement model for future humanitarian emergencies in which the country may accept more groups requiring safe haven.

World Vision New Zealand, Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand, and ActionStation plan to meet with the Government following the election to discuss the insights and views of the participants in the report and how changes can be implemented to offer better support to displaced people arriving in Aotearoa New Zealand.

To help children and families living in Afghanistan text RESPOND to make a $3 donation or visit Childhood Rescue