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Families gather at World Refugee Day in Wellington. (Photographer Joseph Kelly).
ChangeMakers Refugee Forum works with and for New Zealanders from refugee backgrounds. The forum brings together the skills, knowledge and experience to address resettlement issues for more than 14 refugee-background communities in Wellington.
With a board made up of people who have lived through the refugee experience, ChangeMakers seeks to represent the interests of all those who find themselves in that situation. “Our vision is that New Zealanders from refugee backgrounds are participating fully in New Zealand life,” said Tayyaba Khan, the forum’s General Manager.
Each year New Zealand accepts 750 refugees for resettlement through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. On top of these, approximately 300 people a year apply for asylum.
Despite being recognised as refugees, successful asylum seekers are not eligible for support services available to the other refugees. Without such help these individuals may not be able to resettle successfully and can participate only partially in New Zealand society.
Between 2001 and 2006, a group of leaders met on a regular basis to ensure that people from all refugee backgrounds had input into policy development and service delivery. ChangeMakers became an incorporated society and registered charity in 2006, and since then has expanded its services to include research and community development activities.
The Tindall Foundation supported ChangeMakers’ research with $190,000 across three years (2009–2012), and a further $18,500 in December 2012 for the research report ‘Marking time: Experiences of successful asylum seekers in Aotearoa New Zealand’. The launch of that publication in Auckland in December 2013 generated significant media attention about the issues facing refugees in New Zealand.
The 18 research participants—men and women from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East—identified a number of challenges with resettlement, reported Tayyaba. Among the issues were limited access to interpreters, housing or Work and Income support; a lack of official communication; and prolonged periods of waiting and uncertainty.
Donations provided through Funding Manager the Nikau Foundation have supported ChangeMakers’ community development activities, which help refugees adapt to their new home country. A shining example is a programme to teach refugee women to drive, a skill that many New Zealanders take for granted.
Veronica Akori, a member of the Hutt Valley ChangeMakers Women’s Steering Group, pushed for the driving programme. “Nobody comes out of the womb able to drive, so women can learn too if they can have the opportunity,” she said.
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