Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

Resettlement Journeys: A Pathway to Success? an Analysis of the Experiences of Young People from Refugee Backgrounds in Aotearoa New Zealand's Education System

Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

Resettlement Journeys: A Pathway to Success? an Analysis of the Experiences of Young People from Refugee Backgrounds in Aotearoa New Zealand's Education System

Article excerpt


Refugee resettlement in Aotearoa New Zealand has a long and varied history and has been shaped, over time, as much by the government of the day as by the global humanitarian picture (Beaglehole, 2013). In numerous studies researchers have worked with the diverse array of refugee background communities resident in New Zealand to explore their experience of resettlement. We present a structural analysis of the factors that promote the well-being of young people from refugee backgrounds, with a particular focus on experiences of school. This analysis is based on data gathered in qualitative interviews with five individuals widely accepted within the sector as leading experts who have worked with refugee communities in international, governmental, and grassroots capacities. Employing the lens of the segmented assimilation thesis, we explore the resettlement journeys of young people, as facilitated by their experiences in education. We also draw on Ungar's (2005, 2008, 2013) conceptualisation of child resilience. The article makes links to the wider political context and explores the implications for policy makers and the national refugee resettlement strategy to stimulate debate as to how we may better meet the needs of young people from refugee backgrounds, and thus facilitate more consistent and positive resettlement journeys.


The 2015 annual global report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees maintains that there are more forcibly displaced individuals now than at any other point since WWII (UNHCR, 2014, 2015). News of immigration crises throughout Europe, America, and the Middle East, to name a few, has dominated headlines and political agendas, both domestically and in multilateral talks. Particularly within New Zealand, Amnesty International's campaign to double the refugee quota eventually grew to prompt a chorus of voices calling for change, and indeed a level of civic participation not often seen in this country. New Zealand has a relatively long history of refugee resettlement dating to before the end of WWII. However, the process in its present form developed from 1987 where the government agreed to accept 800 refugees annually upon referral from the UNHCR. This was subsequently reduced to 750 in 1997 in order to cover the cost of airfares (Beaglehole, 2013). In September 2015 the government publicly announced it would review the quota in the following year. It did, however, vote down a Green Party bill to increase the quota (just days after agreeing to take an additional 600 Syrians). Every party publicly supports increasing the quota except for the majority National Party.

In 2010, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) announced that it intended to consult with community groups and stakeholders in order to devise a strategy to resettle newly arrived refugees. According to INZ, the proposed strategy received strong support from stakeholders at a national resettlement forum in 2012, and on the strength of this it was approved for implementation in July 2013 (Immigration New Zealand, 2014). The strategy focuses on five areas: self-sufficiency, participation, health and well-being, education and housing, and sets out baseline indicators to provide insight into the overall progress of communities from a refugee background (Immigration New Zealand, 2015).

McBrien's (2014) report on the strategy concludes that its five component areas are admirable, but that meaningful work (self-sufficiency) "is more likely if the goals of health and wellbeing and education/English language are given priority" (vi). McBrien goes on to explain that the strategy's implementation saw an overhaul of the six-week orientation process at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre to include over 50 hours of information related to finding work. With regard to young people, the strategy sets a goal for 85% of 18-yearold refugee background students resident for five years or longer achieving Level 2 NCEA or its equivalent (Immigration New Zealand, 2015). …

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