African Focus ConferenceImmigration
Good morning and thank you for the opportunity to share a few thoughts with you as Minister of Immigration. After almost 2 years in the role, this is a timely opportunity to talk about the progress that has been made in implementing the coalition government’s policies in this area. It is also satisfying to note that I have been specifically asked to address the issues of settlement and resettlement, because these form the thrust of this government’s approach to immigration policy.
Indeed, one of the early actions of this government, was to identify the need to refocus immigration away from what was an unhealthy fixation on the numbers entering the country, to a broader consideration of settlement outcomes. It is not good enough to have no interest in what happens to migrants (including refugees) after they have arrived. This lead us to develop an understanding of the settlement process, as it is represented by a continuum – as opposed to a discrete event.
We also identified that there were differences between migrant settlement and refugee resettlement. The concept of a continuum is shared between the two, but the concept of ‘choice’ is not one readily applied to UNHCR refugees or even asylum seekers accepted as refugees. Refugees do not choose to leave to move to another country; they are compelled to leave as a result of a genuine fear of persecution arising from one of the Convention grounds. This means that their arrival in New Zealand requires a different approach in terms of addressing many of the grief and stress issues that necessarily arise in these circumstances.
I have often made the point that settlement begins before the decision is made to move to New Zealand. This will usually be one of the most far-reaching decisions a person or family could ever make – it will often involve breaking familial ties and travelling great distances. Such a decision is not easily reversed either.
If expectations exceed reality, then the quality of the settlement will be the poorer.
A failure to find work commensurate with qualifications may not only cause a reduced standard of living, it may also cause a level of humiliation which is cultural in nature. Insufficient English skills can also create barriers that people may not have been aware would be there.
An average of 5 on the IELTS test may be sufficient for migration purposes, but it may not be sufficient for everyday communication, especially given the unique characteristics of Kiwi- English.
It seems to me that matching or exceeding expectations is in fact one of the most important elements of the settlement experience.
I believe this is also true for those who come as refugees. What refugees imagine life will be like in New Zealand before they come, will impact on their resettlement outcomes. I am concerned that refugees are also given accurate information so that they don’t get re-traumatised during resettlement. I believe we could improve the quality of information about the New Zealand way of life, before people are selected. The reality is that it is probably going to be very different from previous life experiences, and it might not be the best place for resettlement. The size of NZ’s population, as well as the size of different ethnic communities, is something to be taken into account as well. I believe that this is one of the factors we should take into account in terms of the UNHCR selection process – the ability to resettle based on family and community connections. Well-established and successful resettled refugee communities are obviously a strong base for future resettlement programmes. Family connections make successful resettlement even more likely.
The ability to speak English, the recognition of overseas qualifications, and access to the NZ labour market, are also just as important for refugees as they are for all new migrants.
And it is also my view that receiving communities must be well-informed about refugee resettlement. The media has the potential to play a very significant role by informing the public about events in countries where refugees are forced to leave. A better understanding of the nature of these events can create public sympathy for those who arrive here in New Zealand.
The Refugee and Migrant Service (RMS) has produced a video, which talks about resettlement from the perspective of the receiving communities. Refugees are no different from anyone else, in terms of needing to feel that all-important sense of belonging. Resettlement cannot be successful without it. This means communities must be welcoming and supportive.
This requires the combined resources of central government, local government and community organisations to ensure that appropriate information and support is available. In addition it requires former refugees to be involved in, and ultimately to be responsible for, co-ordinating resettlement programmes. An example has been the employment of former refugees as refugee education co-ordinators within the Ministry of Education.
The second phase in the settlement/resettlement continuum is the arrival and the initial experience.
It is extremely important to build connections and networks between migrant and refugee communities and our own communities, in order to enhance settlement outcomes, and also to build understanding of the benefits of migration. Again this is why it so important that there is good information available to receiving communities.
This is also why connections into the labour market and the community networks need to be made.
This is why I have directed some resources into migrant settlement and refugee resettlement pilot projects.
Four programmes have been established under Pilot 1 to work directly with asylum seekers or people in refugee-like circumstances. The Auckland Refugee Council provides emergency accommodation in West Auckland, and this is the first government that has provided direct financial support for their work. The Auckland Latin American Community has been funded for a part-time social worker for emergency services advice, referral and assistance. The Refugee and Migrant Centre in Christchurch has been funded for a similar programme, which also includes some ESOL provision. And Shakti has been resourced under this category to provide accommodation, advocacy and assistance for victims of domestic violence.
Pilot 2 is focussed on Resident Refugee Family Orientation Courses. Again this is the first government that has recognised that family reunification for refugees requires additional support, and I am hopeful that once the pilots are evaluated we will be able to make provision for ongoing support. The four programmes under this Pilot have been established by Enterprise Waitakere, MclaSS Wellington, RMS Hamilton & Wellington and the Refugee and Migrant Centre Christchurch.
Pilot 3 relates to Resident Migrant Settlement Services, and is being funded through the Migrant Levy. There are 11 programmes funded through this Pilot, and initial evaluations are showing some good results in terms of connecting new migrants to the labour market and communities within which they live. I am very keen to see the labour market pilots mainstreamed once the final evaluations are successfully concluded. This would free up the Migrant Levy Resource for contributing to the development of and support for Migrant Resource Centres.
Pilot 4 relates to a Health Screening Information Campaign. Refugees who come to NZ as part of the UNHCR programme receive health screening and treatment when they first arrive at the Mangere Refugee Reception Centre, however asylum seekers and their families may not be aware of the availability of such services. There has been a high response to the information campaign, to the extent that it has put pressure on health services in Auckland, so there is further work that needs to be done in this area.
I am hopeful that as a result of all of these Pilots, we will have a better understanding of where the gaps are in terms of that initial settlement/ resettlement experience, and we will be in better position to respond to actual needs in this area.
Beyond the initial settlement/resettlement experience is the development of ethnic communities adding diversity and increased international awareness to all communities – we become outward-looking, and that is good.
Strengthening ethnic communities although part of the continuum is not restricted to migrants and refugees. So we have divided up the lead agency role in developing the settlement policy, so that NZIS leads the work on pre-arrival and initial settlement and the Office of Ethnic Affairs takes up the lead role on the longer-term settlement end of the spectrum.
To support this focus on settlement/resettlement, we are undertaking research in the form of a longitudinal study (Longitudinal Immigration Survey: New Zealand (LisNZ)), which should give us something more robust than the anecdotal information we have had to rely on in the past. Specific research is also being conducted on outcomes for refugee resettlement. The project is called Refugee Voices, and is a qualitative project exploring the resettlement experiences of UNHCR refugees, convention refugees and family members who have come later. LisNz will be completed in 2008, Refugee Voices in 2003, although the first round of interviews has now commenced.
I believe this level of research is very important to the policy development process, although I can say that all the international and local research I've looked at point to two indicators of successful settlement/resettlement: employment and family reunification.
Africa has been the source of migrants to New Zealand, both as general skills and family migrants and as refugees.
In terms of building strong, ethnic communities, however, it is probably irrelevant why people came to New Zealand in the first place. The shared interest lies in maintaining inheritance languages and culture, while integrating and sharing that inheritance with the wider community.
I am also acutely aware that for most migrants and former refugees, events occurring in the homeland will be of intense interest, and a desire to see resolution to conflict or economic deprivation will be upper-most in the minds of many. I also know that for many there will be a desire to return to rebuild countries that have been shattered by conflict, and it is certainly my hope that in such cases NZ has played a significant role by enhancing the skills that people return with. This to me would not be a loss or failure, as we often regard returning migrants, but rather as a successful adjunct to our Official Development Aid programme. Investing in people is just as important as investing in infrastructure.
In conclusion, can I again thank you for allowing me to participate in this conference. I congratulate Love Chile, who is an extremely valuable adviser to my Ministerial Advisory Group on Immigration, for what is an excellent programme, and I look forward to his feeding through to me any resolutions of the Conference relating to immigration and settlement policy.
I am extremely proud of the way this coalition government has formulated its vision for New Zealand, and our willingness both to listen and to respond to the concerns of all sectors of society.
I believe Helen Clark has established herself as an inclusive Prime Minister, and as someone willing to lead public opinion, particularly around immigration and refugee issues. Her vision and that of the coalition government is of an inclusive society, with all of its members able to contribute to NZ’s economic and social transformation, while at the same time, having an outward-looking approach that recognises NZ as a good international citizen, responsive to the natural and political crises that affect different parts of the world.
The NZ Immigration Programme, with its focus on positive settlement and resettlement outcomes, has, I believe, achieved a balance that recognises immigration policy’s contribution to NZ’s economic development through business and general skills migration, social development through strengthening communities with family reunification and international humanitarian responsibilities through refugee resettlement and our special relationship with the Pacific nations. That balance is an important one to maintain to ensure that NZ continues to be welcoming to all its migrants and refugees, so that the benefits are shared by all.