New Zealand must empower all refugees to belong in the wake of terrorist attack | Jay Marlowe and Bernard Sama
Tterrorist attack on New Lynn shopping center in west Auckland last Friday, which left five people in hospital and the assailant shot, highlights how isolation and lack of belonging can create ground fertile for the rooting of extremist ideas.
As the public conversation moves from descriptions of the event to suggestions for what to follow, we also need to consider why it has become so isolated. As the details of this person continue to be disclosed, the larger context of how people seek asylum and how they are treated merits consideration.
For more than a decade, we have studied how refugees find a sense of belonging in their new home, while remaining connected to the cultures from which they come. Our research, and that of many others, concludes that creating a sense of belonging is essential to positive settlement outcomes. It is also arguably a powerful counterweight to extremist ideologies accessible through social media.
One of the biggest challenges for a good settlement experience is that some refugees receive full support while others end up with next to nothing. This unequal treatment is based on the way refugees arrive in New Zealand.
One way to get here is the refugee quota, whereby the government annually settles up to 1,500 people who have been granted refugee status abroad. These people are called “quota refugees”.
People claiming refugee status in New Zealand are called asylum seekers because they hope to make a claim under the 1951 United Nations Convention for Refugee Status. If they are successful, they can stay in New Zealand and are then called “conventional refugees”.
International law gives them the same rights, but New Zealand’s policies mean that conventional refugees receive far less support than their quota counterparts.
Quota refugees receive a five-week orientation at Auckland’s Māngere Resettlement Reception Center and support with health, work, housing, education, social assistance and other services in the different parts of New Zealand where they are located. A volunteer training program run by the Red Cross connects Kiwis with new arrivals to help them settle. Much of this support is provided by the Refugee Resettlement Strategy which was implemented in 2013.
In contrast, Convention refugees receive minimal support and are excluded from the refugee resettlement strategy during these critical early years.
Senior officials have been quoted for nearly a decade as saying that an aspiration of the refugee resettlement strategy is to include – eventually – Convention refugees. Almost a decade later, these statements ring largely hollow.
Our current policies create a divide between so-called “deserving” and “undeserving” refugees and confuse who is eligible for assistance, which means that some people fall through the cracks. There are better ways to support them, and we know that because those ways are already in action with those going through the refugee quota.
New Zealand’s approach to resettlement, while not without flaws, is seen as an example of good practice. The problem right now is that although all refugees share a similar need for protection, it only supports some of them.
We are encouraged that political parties from all walks of life recognize that this terrorist attack represented the actions of an individual and did not reflect a larger group. Yes, this man was from a refugee background and had a traumatic past, but this attack should not be used to label and stigmatize refugees, asylum seekers or other social groups.
We must remember that asylum seekers and refugees are individuals who are protected by international law and who arrive in New Zealand with acute protection needs, including support to cope with previous trauma. We should in no way take this current event as an opportunity to give up the necessary checks and balances that are part of the guarantee that we do not return people to the hands of their persecutors.
Despite the unprecedented global crisis of the more than 82 million people forcibly displaced by conflict, there are many examples of countries building walls, sowing barbed wire along borders and legislating to make it harder for people to cross. and to be recognized.
We should recognize a refugee as a refugee, regardless of the route he took to get here. In the future, ensuring that all refugees have the same rights will reduce barriers to integration, go some way to guarding against hatred and make our society much safer and more cohesive.
Jay Marlowe is Associate Professor and Co-Director of the Center for Asia Pacific Refugee Studies at the University of Auckland. Bernard Sama is a doctoral student at the Center, under the supervision of Marlowe and Dr Anna Hood. He came to New Zealand as an asylum seeker, has been officially recognized as a Convention Refugee and is the current Chairman of the Board of the Auckland Refugee Council Incorporated (Asylum Seekers Support Trust) .