Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Early Engagement

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Early Engagement

Article excerpt

New Zealand welcomes refugees with disabilities - but how well are they supported after arrival?

Each year, the New Zealand government selects 750 refugees for resettlement. Assessment services and support for disability cases among these 750 have improved over the past few years, thanks to strong advocacy from Refugee Services (the primary agency helping refugees to settle within their new communities) and other specialist agencies such as CCS Disability Action. Quota refugees have six weeks of orientation, screening and assessment at the Mangere Reception Centre in Auckland before resettling throughout the country. Prior to 2006 refugees with disabilities arriving in New Zealand would not receive specialist support until they had been housed in the community (six or more weeks later). Introduction of assessment at the point of arrival has meant that support is now better streamlined and responds more closely to people's needs.

Challenging the system

Many of the issues for people with disabilities focus on accessing much needed resources - which are also scarce for the general population. Some refugees with disabilities arrive in the country without basic resources such as a wheelchair or appropriate assistive devices. Some have lived without these supports for a long time (for example, children or even adults may have been used to being carried rather than having a wheelchair) and there needs to be a period of transition.

Difficulties around accessing appropriate interpreting support are generic for many refugee clients. Refugee populations in New Zealand tend to be small and it can be difficult finding appropriate professionally trained interpreters - and finding interpreters who can support refugees with a hearing impairment (i.e. who also have sign language skills) can be even more problematic. Finding adequate housing can also be difficult. In some cases there has to be a compromise between being housed where there is community support and being housed where specific disability needs (such as for modified housing) can be provided for.

Accessing the necessary support has meant working through systems which tend to have a 'one size fits all' philosophy and whose staff may not be accustomed to working with very different cultural traditions and beliefs. This requires time, education and resources.

Providing professional disability-related support

To address the gap between arrival in New Zealand and receiving disability support, CCS Disability Action linked up with the Mangere Reception Centre to ensure that professional staff are available when refugees with disabilities first arrive, working alongside the family to advocate for them and help them cope with the unfamiliarity of their new lives from a disability perspective. Early engagement enables a smoother transition into the community. In addition to this, staff have set up service networks at the centre in order to enable the government's needs assessment agency1 to do assessments while people are still at the centre, before they are moved out into the community and elsewhere in the country. The needs assessment can then be sent on to disability support agencies in the city of destination so that action can be taken before the refugees arrive. CCS Disability Action staff have also worked with the resettlement centre to find economical ways to provide better access to its facilities, installing features such as ramps and handrails. …

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