When We Become New Zealanders

My name is Abann K. A Yor; I identify myself as a South Sudanese New Zealander, who is now a New Zealand citizen. I was born in South Sudan, where my family, relatives and ancestry originate from. Before I became a New Zealander, I experienced a challenging resettlement journey that took all of nineteen years. It started in 1986 when I was forced to flee as a teenager from South Sudan to Sudan, because of the ongoing Sudan civil war. My family and I then fled from Sudan to Syria in 2000 for safety and protection. We sought asylum for resettlement opportunities in a third country of resettlement and ended up in New Zealand.

My family and I became New Zealanders in September 2005, when we received a permanent resident visa whilst waiting in Syria. This was a part of the UNHCR policy that ended a person’s status as a refugee, transitioning them to a permanent resident in their new country. This is when my family and I became New Zealanders. According to the UNHCR, the refugee status is a temporary process that must end when one of three durable solutions is achieved. The first solution is a voluntary return to your country of origin, which involves making a very brave and risky decision. The second solution is local integration in the second country of asylum and the final one is resettlement in third country of resettlement, for those who cannot return to their own country of origin because of ongoing conflict, wars, or persecution.

When we arrived in Aotearoa, New Zealand, in 2005, I did not know much about New Zealand. The only things I knew was that New Zealand was a small green country with two islands South and North, with a population of four million people and more sheep than people, and three primary languages: English, Maori, and Sign language.

I like New Zealand because of the opportunity I have received socially and economically, which has allowed me to develop my career and practice as a community advocate and educator. I have invested time in volunteer work, serving diverse ethnic communities and educating myself to gain the appropriate tools and knowledge to do what is right for myself and others. By taking the opportunities offered to me, I recovered from my historical trauma through my work and education. It took me years to live the New Zealand dream, after which I engaged in higher education, achieving a Master’s degree in Applied Indigenous Knowledge as an African native.  Currently, I am a Chief Executive Officer of Aotearoa Resettled Community Coalition (ARCC). It has been a journey from being a representative of the South Sudanese community at the Coalition, then Youth Coordinator, Vice-chair, Chairperson, General Manager and now CEO.

What I do not like about New Zealand is the discriminatory language that categorises residents and citizens as different, by labelling us as migrants, especially people who come to New Zealand under humanitarian visas (Refugee Quota Programme-permanent residents, and family reunification- resident visa). We are constantly referred to as refugees, those from a refugee background, or former refugees when we are now permanent residents and New Zealanders.

The challenges I faced in my settlement and integration process were establishing a network, finding suitable employment, and feeling that I belonged in New Zealand society. My name and my skin colour are a problem, plus the English language barrier. I have missed a lot about my country of origin, reflecting on my childhood, before forced displacement, where I grew up in a natural and healthy environment. I miss my homeland of South Sudan with its beautiful landscape, people, families, relatives’ friends, natural food, the River Nile with its fresh fish, fresh fruits such as watermelon, African coconut and mango and the many animals and birds. For example, I miss the hyena’s laughter and the calling of the cattle, especially the bulls. I still have memories of the sound of the roosters, waking us up in the morning (Cockle doodle doo) and the chirping of other forest birds.

 

My message to new residents, who have experienced a similar journey, is to try your best to maintain your hope, resilience, and high expectations of what you will achieve in the short term, medium and long terms in Aotearoa, New Zealand. Start with self-reconciliation by engaging with service providers who can offer help and be a support base in working through
a process of recovery from historical trauma. Maintain a positive mindset on the road to recovery to aid the healing process and start discovering what your New Zealand dream is.

New Zealanders role in the resettlement process, should be to welcome resettled emigrants from a forced migrant background by applying the cultural value of indigenous Maori Manaakitanga (hospitality).  Welcome and pay respect to new residents from a forced migrant background, greet them as new Kiwis, recognising their legal status. 

Make it easier for them to thrive in their new home by treating them with respect, compassion, and love (Aroha). Encourage neighbourhoods to establish close relationships, and as honest citizens apply positive attitudes towards new residents.  Let us all encourage them to feel welcome and accepted in Aotearoa, New Zealand society.