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Wednesday, 15 August 2018 10:18 am

Skilled and qualified refugees stacking shelves at supermarkets

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HELP SETTLING IN: Community organisations show what services are available to refugees at a recent Safety and Wellbeing Day in Porirua

REFUGEES in New Zealand with good skills and excellent qualifications often end up stacking supermarket shelves.

Samson Sahele, of Refugee Trauma Recovery support agency, says refugees often struggle to find suitable employment and this can take its toll on them.

Many refugees have been tortured, or experienced other trauma, and Mr Sahele’s organisation provides mental health support for these people.

“They (refugees) come to a new country with high expectations. They think that they will go and get a job and be rich, but it is not that easy,” he says.  “You can’t get a job, even if you are qualified.

“They (employers) do not value your overseas experience. That is sort of put in the rubbish.

“You cannot get a job without any experience, and without a job you cannot get any experience.”

The problem is not new but is changing with time, Refugee Trauma Recovery general manager Jeff Thomas said recently at the third annual Refugee Safety and Wellbeing Day, held in Porirua.

“There are people who come over with good occupations and good qualifications,” he said.

“Most of the time they get jobs stacking shelves and cleaning, but their kids are going on to university.  It really takes them a generation to settle in.”

Refugees from the Wellington area gathered in Cannons Creek’s Cook Island Hall recently for the Safety and Wellbeing Day.

Representatives from 20 community organisations manned stalls and stands showing refugees what services they could provide them.

Mr Thomas is optimistic about progress being made by most refugee families. He says the cultural shock experienced by these communities lessens over time.

“Eventually they build up their own community within the community,” he says.   “So it’s about integrating into our culture while retaining their own, but becoming Kiwis.”

Mr Thomas says it is important for refugees to get to know community social agencies such as the police because in other countries police can be seen as the enemy.

One refugee from Burma at Cannons Creek event, who did not wish to be named, said she struggled to adapt to New Zealand culture.

“New Zealand (is) very nice, but very hard,” she says.

Two Burmese children perform a dance at the Refugee Safety and Wellbeing Day

OLD AND NEW: Burmese children dance at the Refugee Safety and Wellbeing Day

She moved from Myaing, in central Burma, to New Zealand so that her daughter could get a better education.  In Burma she worked as an office assistant, and now she cleans an office building.

“I found it very hard to get a job and make friends when I arrived,” she said.

Mr Thomas attributes the underemployment of refugees to language and cultural differences.

Another organisation, Refugee Services, runs a programme called Pathways to Employment, which aims to get refugees into appropriate jobs.

Interpreter Jaqueline Biggins says her organisation, Porirua Union and Community Health, tries to bridge the language barrier.

The service provides interpreters to help refugees and other migrants get good health care.

“They feel they are going to be listened to.

Her organisation wants to get the message across to refugee families that they should not wait until the last minute to go to the doctor.

The two main refugee groups in Porirua are Burmese and Colombian, she says.

Community Health nurse Marie Christeller says the main health problems she sees involve alcohol, drugs and sexual health.

“We provide them with a range of coping mechanisms,” she says.

Porirua Mayor Nick Leggett, who attended the Refugee Safety and Wellbeing Day, says that former refugees in Porirua make an important contribution to the community.

“I think we are a welcoming community,  a diverse community,” he says.

“The first people came here on a waka, the next came on sailing ships, and today people arrive on a Boeing or an Airbus.

“Porirua is a place where you can come and be successful.”

Porirua City’s settlement and support programme is organised by Annette Woods, who says the council holds workshops and seminars for new New Zealanders.

Ms Woods recently ran an interpreted workshop, Driving in New Zealand, in association with local police. It was targeted at Burmese and Colombian migrants to help them adapt to New Zealand driving conditions.

This month Settlement Support Porirua held a language seminar for migrants who speak fluent English but are unfamiliar with the Kiwi vernacular.

The session introduced new New Zealanders to ‘Kiwi slang’, something that can be hard to interpret for people who have been educated in formal English.

Ms Woods said the session was a pilot after a similar course in the Hutt Valley was held with great success.

She believes the Settlement Support Services programme is working well. In a recent survey of those who deal with Porirua Settlement Support Services, there was a satisfaction rate of 71%.

The programme produces a monthly newsletter with advice for refugees on such things as early morning frost and employment rights.

Porirua City Council, in its social wellbeing statement, emphasises its goal to become a harmonious multicultural community.
Hutt City Council runs a similar service called Settlement Support Hutt Valley, which puts on various workshops throughout the year.

The Office of Ethnic Affairs is tasked with promoting the benefits of ethnic diversity in New Zealand.

Office of Ethnic Affairs advisor Yasmin Renders-Briden says refugees face endless barriers.

“There is a long way to go, but I think that people are more accepting now than they were 10 years ago,” she says.

“We build connections and try to give them the tools so they can be self-sustainable.”

Other agencies represented at the Refugee Safety and Wellbeing Day included the Cancer Society, Wellington Free Ambulance, Push Play, ACC and the Human Rights Commission.

Porirua Library also had a stall to help people sign up for library cards.

Immigration New Zealand says there are 14 million refugees worldwide who for various reasons cannot return to their home countries.

New Zealand accepts 750 refugees a year through an agreement with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

There are up to six intakes a year for approximately 125 refugees.

When they first arrive, they enter a six-week orientation programme at Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre in Auckland, where they are processed and assessed.

A New Kiwis initiative has been set up by the Immigration Service and the Auckland Chamber of Commerce.  The New Kiwis website helps employers link up with appropriately skilled migrants.

Also on the site, migrants can learn about their rights and responsibilities as New Zealand workers.

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is a Whitireia journalism student covering Porirua, Titahi Bay, Mana and Plimmerton. He has a BA in History and Political Science from Victoria University.
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