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Friday, 19 April 2019 02:28 pm

New Zealand home after sinking boat and island isolation.


NEW LIFE: Mohammad Ali Amiri, president of the Afghan Association of Wellington. Photo by Fairfax.

HUNDREDS of Afghan asylum seekers in a sinking boat were destined for a watery grave before they were rescued by a cargo ship in the Indian Ocean in 2001.The asylum seekers were refused entry into Australia, leaving them without anywhere to go.

The Australian Government insisted that no asylum seeker on board the Tampa would set foot on Australian soil, but the crisis was resolved through the assistance of New Zealand and Nauru.

Mohammad Ali Amiri, Right, now a New Zealand citizen, was one of 438 Afghan asylum seekers rescued from the boat by the cargo ship Tampa.

He and the other asylum seekers were taken to Nauru and kept there for three years without knowing their fate.

“I didn’t know where New Zealand was in the beginning, I was in Nauru, an island in the South Pacific where I was told about New Zealand.”

Mr Ali Amiri could not speak English before he went to Nauru, and learned English by talking to Australians and New Zealanders who worked there.

He said he had a wonderful experience meeting people from New Zealand who worked in Nauru to serve them.

“What amazing people are New Zealanders.”

Mr Ali Amiri never lost hope and kept communicating with New Zealand authorities with the hope New Zealand would accept him and the others left in Nauru camp.

“I used to write to Helen Clark and the Minister of Immigration every month to try to get us accepted into New Zealand.”

Once allowed into New Zealand in 2004, Mr Ali Amiri said there are many challenges for Refugees, such as education, and most importantly getting a job.

“Refugees who come to New Zealand are bringing their skills with them, where they were very successful business owners or experts in different fields, but they are never given the chance to prove it to society.”

Mr Ali Amiri said if you meet a Refugee ask them who they are and what they do.

“They are doctors, lawyers, volunteers, and people contributing to the community. No one gives them a chance.”

He said New Zealanders need more education regarding Refugees and what they have gone through to make it to our shores.

“New Zealanders don’t have much education about Refugees, because there are people who think that Refugee and migrants are the same.

“Refugees don’t choose to leave their county, or choose where or how to go. But Migrants have time and resources. They choose to go, and they take their belongings, while Refugees don’t.”

As president of the Afghan Association of Wellington Inc, Mr Ali Amiri said his work involves educating the community and helping Refugees.

“My aim is to support the communities and get them to where I am. It is my time to give back to the community and pass on that help.”

Part of Mr Ali Amiri’s work is speaking at lion clubs, schools, and universities to educate people by sharing his story.

“I go to lots of different places to tell my story. I have made a choice to talk because stories can change perception.

“By hearing real stories from Refugees New Zealanders can learn and understand.”


HELPING HAND: Writer Samson Sahele works as an advocate for Refugees living in New Zealand. Photo supplied.

Refugee Trauma Recovery Cross Culture Advocate Samson Sahele, Left, agrees that empathy with Refugees could be better in New Zealand.

“The common perception is that Refugees come to New Zealand with poor education, language barriers, no work experience, and aren’t functional in the community.”

According to Red Cross Refugee Services, New Zealand’s first major involvement in Refugee resettlement began in November 1944 when the American vessel General Randall arrived from war-torn Europe with 733 Polish children and 108 adults on board.

Since then there has been a history of goodwill towards Refugee survivors beginning a new life in New Zealand.

The Red Cross Refugee Services Refugee policy reflects the government’s commitment to its international humanitarian obligations as a signatory to the United Nations 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.

However, Refugee Trauma Recovery manager Jeff Thomas said Refugees only have access to Red Cross Refugee Services for 12 months, which is not enough.

“About 40-50% of them need support for longer, especially access to their social workers. It would be great if this kind of support was available for two years.”

Refugee Trauma Recovery is a charitable organization that provides mental health services for Refugees who have experienced trauma or torture, and provide support for Refugees in New Zealand.

Programme and services coordinator Joy Williams said Refugee Trauma Recovery was set up because there was a need for mental health support for Refugees.

“There was a need for a specialized service to help refugees cope with emotion, trauma, current issues, and settling into a new society.”

Refugee Trauma Recovery offers counselling and psychology services as well as non-clinical programmes.

The biggest challenges faced by refugees are settling in a new country with a different language and culture, Mrs Wilson said.

“Refugees have to find work and ultimately a whole new sense of being.

“We educate Refugee adults about money, gender, and to understand where they are now and to help them settle in New Zealand.”

Mrs Wilson said Refugees are resilient people who have achieved a lot by managing to survive on their way to New Zealand.

“We must not forget that Refugees aren’t helpless, they have a lot of strengths and it’s important that we give them the right support.”

Originally from Ethiopia, Mr Sahele is a Refugee living in New Zealand.

Mr Sahele fled his homeland in 1996 and crossed the border into Kenya, before travelling to Tazania, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland and South Africa, and coming to New Zealand in 2000.

“I came to New Zealand as a Refugee. I spent six weeks in Auckland for orientation then came to Wellington. I have been here nearly 13 years.”

Mr Sahele is an experienced journalist who worked as an editor of a newspaper in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital city.

“That’s the reason I left my country. I was facing constant harassment and questioning. I was arrested and detained for three to four months then had to pay to get out.”

Mr Sahele went to Massey University where he completed a Bachelor of Communications and Management, and a Diploma in Business studies.

“It takes a long time to study. You also need to get used to the language, the culture, the weather… you can’t become a Kiwi overnight.”

After Mr Sahele finished his studies he got a job as a cross culture advocate at Refugee Trauma Recovery where he has worked for the last seven years.

Mr Thomas said Mr Sahele’s work with New Zealand Refugees has helped with confidence and academic achievements.


STORY TOLD: Mr Sahele’s frist poetry book was inspired by his experiences. Photo supplied.

“Those who have participated have gained in confidence and gone on to be high achievers in school and tertiary education.”

Mr Sahele is a published poet and has been working on two novels for the last three years.

Journey with my Shadow was published in 2012 and took Mr Sahele ten years to write.

“It is my life journey, beginning in Ethiopia and ending in New Zealand.”

Mr Sahele said Refugee Trauma Recovery offers services which enable Refugees to become educated in New Zealand.

“We help with housing, employment, welfare systems, schooling and more. We’re really working hard to make a difference.”

Mr Sahele said Refugee Trauma Recovery has had a lot of success stories and perceptions of Refugees are slowly changing.

“I have seen a lot of change. People are becoming more accepting and welcoming of refugees. It is getting better and better.”


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is is a Whitireia journalism student with a BA from Victoria University with English literature and media studies majors.
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