The Importance Of Refugees In New Zealand

First steps in New Zealand

When refugees and asylum seekers arrive in New Zealand they spend the first six weeks adjusting to life in the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre. The centre, where currently 165 refugees are staying, consists of four different agencies: Immigration, Medical, Counselling, and Education. Maria Lawyer, who has spent 28 years researching and being involved in refugee education, is a manager at the Centre for Refugee Education. Ms Lawyer always felt strongly about education and social justice.

“The idea of people coming from difficult situations that had nothing to do with any fault on their part and then being able to do something to make up for that, appeals to me,” she said.

The initial welcoming to the centre
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It has to be a welcome that says we’re a country who really want you to make this place your new home.”

Ms Lawyer said the refugees are incredible eager to learn about New Zealand culture and how to make friends. Refugees take nothing for granted she said. Refugees wake up at the centre feeling safe - there are no bombs, there will be food, their children are getting medical care, they wakeup in shock, she said. As for the children, Ms Lawyer said, they just need to settle and remember how to be kids.

“They need to be able to play, laugh, learn new things make friends,” she said. “The bell goes at the end of lunch time and the kids are running to class, they’re so keen to learn and have a normal life again.”


For Ms Lawyer working at the centre is a rewarding job. She said refugees are people who truly value kindness and
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“Further down the track they might get depressed but during that six weeks it’s a sort of a ‘wow are we really here?’.”

One of the initial stages at the centre is finding the individual needs of each refugee before they leave the centre and into society – whether they’re physical and mental healthy. Ms Lawyer said trauma is a major factor of the refugees’ lives.

“You’ve been somewhere where daily you don’t know if you and your family are going to get to the end of the day still alive,” she said. “And you’re very aware of where your brother, or sister, or your mother, or your children, or your husband, or wife still are.

“As soon as people start to feel safe about themselves, that’s the next concern – what about the rest of my family.”

Ms Lawyer said some people try to burry the trauma deep inside and can break down if someone reminds them of that trauma. Whereas others don’t get a full nights sleep without a nightmare, for the rest of their lives. Ms Lawyer said it’s impossible to teach people how to overcome trauma, New Zealand culture, and even budgeting in just six

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