Abann Yor is a community advocate, educator, and author. He served ARCC in various roles in a voluntary capacity for eight years and has been the organisation’s CEO for the past seven years. He has completed a number of formal qualifications including a Graduate Diploma in Not-for-Profit Management, a Postgraduate Certificate in Social Practice, a Postgraduate Diploma in Bicultural Professional Supervision and a master’s degree in Indigenous Studies.
This article explains the resettlement journey to Aotearoa New Zealand, highlighting the importance of the forced migration stages. The journey starts with fleeing the country of origin and continues with arrival in the refugee host country. It ends with arrival in the resettlement host country for protection, safety, and the healing process. This article analyses and attempts to understand the appropriate use of the term ‘refugee’ and how it relates to human vulnerability. Humanitarian aid is also discussed, regarding how service providers enforce policies and deliver programmes for displaced people. The author’s lived experience provides the context for these discussions, including his practice as a community advocate, with the application of a human rights-based approach.
This article aims to increase the public awareness about the resettlement journey to Aotearoa New Zealand, and to inform new residents and resettled community members about their rights in the settlement and integration process. Insights are provided on the different stages that lead to permanent resettlement through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), with facts around the resettlement journey highlighted. The journey discussion starts with the country of origin, followed by reflecting on arrival in the refugee host country and the process of obtaining refugee status through the local UNHCR office. The selection process for resettlement through UNHCR referral to the resettlement host country, in this case Aotearoa New Zealand, is also discussed.
As the world is witnessing in the twenty-first century, displacement of people is increasing with a refugee crisis across continents including Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. Arguably the root causes can be narrowed down to economic and global political agendas. Forced displacement affects innocent civilians who become victims of war and persecution in their own countries. A person in a refugee situation is clearly defined in the 1951 Refugee Convention, and by numerous international agencies and organisations, as someone who has been forced to leave their country to escape conflict, persecution, or natural disaster. They have been forced to cross national boundaries and find themselves between anvil and hammer, unable to return home safely. Those that have fled to foreign countries are referred to as asylum seekers until the contracting state or local UNHCR office grants them refugee status.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
Forced displacement begins with fleeing the country of origin to find a place of shelter and safety. Seeking refuge in the neighbouring asylum country comes with vulnerability, but also the hope that everything will be fine. This is where forced migration begins, with the expectation that a solution will be found as soon as possible. Instead, the innocenl civilians become vulnerable to the policies enforced and programmes delivered by humanitarian aid agencies.
Forced displacement is frequently caused by conflict or natural disasters that force migrants to flee and seek refuge in the nearest neighbouring countries. It can also be caused by issues of discrimination based on race, nationality, religion, political opinion, or membership of a particular social group. Imagine being forced to leave your counlry and leave everything behind to find refuge due to factors beyond your control. It is a very costly journey, one that often involves experiences of human rights abuses and the witnessing of horrific, unimaginable events. These experiences cause trauma and survivor’s guilt. Escape is either by foot or other risky forms of transportation. The journey is complicated and occurs in various stages, with each step involving drastic changes in both time and location, and each new place bringing complex information due to differences in legal status. The circumstances are dire. A situation involving such intense vulnerability would be traumatising for any human being. Arrival at the refugee host country determines the circumstances of the new arrivals. Those in groups likely end up in a displacement camp or refugee camp.
REFUGEE HOST COUNTRY
Forced migrants that arrive at border displacement camps are not recognised internationally as refugees due to the fact that they are still technically within their country (e.g., South Sudanese on the border of Sudan). They are instead referred to as Internal Displaced People (IDP). The displacement camps are managed by national NGOs and local government, based on the country’s partnerships with international organisations like the UNHCR. The eligibility criteria for refugee status states that the displaced person must be in a foreign country. Examples include South Sudanese, Burundian, Somali, and Congolese people in Ugandan and Kenyan refugee camps, Syrians in Lebanese refugee camps and Afghans in Pakistan
THE PROCESS OF OBTAINING REFUGEE STATUS
To obtain refugee status the displaced migrant must follow the legal process through UNHCR, launching an application in a refugee camp or as an urban asylum seeker. A refugee is a temporary term in UNHCR terminology, which applies to a person seeking international protection and solutions. According to UNHCR, the refugee definition in the 1951 Refugee Convention determines the core eligibility criteria for mandated refugee status. Article 1A (2) of the convention states that the term refugee shall apply to a person who ’owing to well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of nationality and is unable or… unwilling to return to it’ Based on this definition, the term refugee is applied to someone in a vulnerable situation forced to flee danger. Furthermore, according to a distinguished expert on international refugee law, Guy S. Goodwin-Gill, the purpose of defining a refugee is ‘to facilitate and justify aid and protection’.
UNHCR’s primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of displaced people in refugee situations, and it is mandated to protect and support refugees in refugee host countries. Accordingly, UNHCR identified three long-lasting solutions that facilitate ending the refugee situation. The first solution is voluntary repatriation (to the country of origin), the second is local integration (in the refugee host country), and the third solution is resettlement to a third country (the resettlement host country).
PROCESS OF SELECTION FOR RESETTLEMENT
Resettlement is one of the possible permanent solutions that UNHCR facilitates for a person who holds refugee status in a refugee host country. However, the resettlement process is complicated, and it takes many years (whether in a refugee camp or as an urban asylum seeker) to finally be resettled. The pathway followed depends on each individual cases, with the local UNHCR office prioritising and identifying the solution suited to each individuals’ needs. The first two priorities for the UNHCR are voluntary repatriation to the country of origin, and integration in the refugee host country, with referral to resettle in a third country the final option.
When a case has been allocated for resettlement by the local UNHCR office it will be referred to a resettlement host country based on their own selection criteria. For Immigration New Zealand (INZ) the three selection criteria are i) women and girls at risk, ii) those in need of medical attention, and disability, iii) emergency cases. When deciding on a case INZ considers its own policies, case credibility, the security risk, and health. When INZ accepts someone with refugee status offshore to resettle in Aotearoa New Zealand their status changes from refugee to a New Zealand permanent resident. In such cases, because a solution has been found (permanent settlement) and Aotearoa New Zealand has agreed to admit them and grant them permanent residence, the new residents from the refugee host country can be transferred to Aotearoa New Zealand as the resettlement host country. They are no longer refugees and instead now have a new status as New Zealand permanent residents.
Many displaced people are vulnerable to service delivery agencies such as government organisations and NGOs, which enforce their own policies and deliver programmes. Forced migrants may experience human rights abuses, pressure, and inadequate treatment in their country of origin and refugee host country. This is in addition to the ordeal of leaving everything behind, experiencing trauma and being taken advantage of on their journey, and the pain of losing family members during the escape process. All these factors make forced migrants victims of their own country’s lack of protection. Arriving in a refugee host country means being vulnerable to the power, resources, and control of service providers.
As I experienced and witnessed in refugee host countries, government officials and service providers speak on behalf of displaced people and refugees without consulting them directly about their needs. As a result, in refugee situations, people are vulnerable and overlooked as silent subjects. Their rights are violated.
RESETTLEMENT HOST COUNTRY
Aotearoa New Zealand’s role as a country that accepts humanitarian enlrants is to provide protection, safety and a healing process for new residents and resettled communities, to help them recover from the trauma, exploitation, and loss they have experienced during the resettlement journey. We must remember that our role is different from that of a refugee host country and consider our human rights responsibilities and obligations as a member of the international community. When migrants experience human rights violations in their resettlement country (i.e., Aotearoa New Zealand), having suffered such treatment in their country of origin and in the refugee host country, they are kept in the past.
Labelling new residents as other by using terminology such as refugee, former refugee, and refugee background, as is often the case in Aotearoa New Zealand, is a prime example of human rights violations in a resettlement country. Instead, new residents can be acknowledged as permanent residents or citizens, with a new journey ahead.
Lack of recognition of the legal status of permanent residence and citizenship is a human rights violation and is lacking in respect. Although we witness resettled community members accessing support from our office here at ARCC, it is clear how vulnerable they are when accessing mainstream services, including through government agencies. The majority have low self-esteem, face language barriers, and suffer from historical and ongoing trauma, including confusion about their direction in life and the loss of hope and their home.
Aotearoa New Zealand in general has a good human righls record. Why don’t we administer justice by recognising the new status of these permanent residents and citizens, rather than holding them hostage to their past by using terms like refugee, former refugee, and refugee background? They are not living in the past. They are living in the present. It is our responsibility as a nation to acknowledge their rights.
Through our own lived experience and observation, we have seen how government agencies and NGOs misrepresent our community voice, which results in unjust treatment in the resettlement sector. Our side of the narrative is not being heard or understood by resettlement service providers. Many people arrive in new countries, as either economic or political refugees, with expectations driven by hope for a better life. Some service providers are not meeting those expectations.
The UNHCR’s primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees, it is mandated to protect and support refugees in refugee host countries. Importantly, the term refugee is a temporary, not permanent, term used by UNHCR and applied to a person who has a well-founded fear of being persecuted. Therefore, the saying ‘once a refugee, always a refugee’ is false. The UNHCR has three durable solutions — voluntary repatriation, local integration, or resettlement to a third country. The forced displacement and refugee situation ends when one of these solutions is found. New status and identity have superseded the person’s past, that of a permanent resident or a citizen of the country they have been resettled in or returned safely to.
The true narrative of forced displacement involves incredible challenges and vulnerability for displaced people. They are powerless during the three stages of the resettlement journey to Aotearoa New Zealand. Service delivery agencies take advantage of their vulnerabilities when they enforce their policies and deliver their programmes without their consent. This is a human rights violation. Sometimes people escape without knowing the destination, they are forced to flee to a foreign country. Why do service providers resist the use of appropriate terminology? Is it systemic discrimination, from institutions and media along with service providers, or society’s ignorance?
Aotearoa New Zealand’s responsibility is to provide protection, safety and a healing process for new residents and resettled communities. They have legally obtained permanent resident status on their arrival. The refugee status offshore changes to that of New Zealand permanent resident as a permanent solution to their displacement. Why do we use the terminology of refugees, former refugees, and refugee background? There is systemic discrimination in the policies enforced and programmes delivered by service providers in the settlement and integration process, and this must change.