Otago Daily Times

First refugees finish managed isolation process


AUCKLAND: The first batch of refugees to arrive in New Zealand since the border closed have now completed managed isolation.

The 16 asylum seekers were prioritise­d as emergency cases because of a perceived high risk of death, jail, or expulsion from their own countries.

As many as 1000 more refugees, approved to come to New Zealand before the pandemic hit, are still trapped abroad, waiting for the country’s borders to open.

It is the first time in four months there have been refugees staying at Mangere Refugee Centre.

‘‘Everybody’s excited because we know how much it means for these families to be in a safe place and be looked after, and it’s important for us as well,’’ refugee quota programme manager Qemajl Murati said yesterday.

On arrival, asylum seekers stayed in a managed isolation facility for two weeks, and the refugee centre for one week.

The annual refugee quota programme, through which 1500 people enter New Zealand, is still on hold.

Even so, Mr Murati said it was ready to welcome them.

‘‘We have 1500 people that we have interviewe­d and of those we have 1000 who have been approved.

‘‘They’ve been given residency and are waiting but the question is can they travel?

‘‘We need to make sure that the corridors are safe.’’

The United Nations Refugee Agency has resumed resettleme­nt for a limited number of refugees who face an immediate lifethreat­ening situation, deportatio­n, detention or imprisonme­nt.

In midOctober, New Zealand agreed to resettle some of those people under emergency priority.

Aid worker Carl Adams was working in the world’s largest refugee camp when the Covid19 pandemic took hold.

He was in Bangladesh at Cox’s Bazar camp which, according to the United Nations, is home to 855,000 official Rohingya refugees.

‘‘It was a very weird eerie time because, as in New Zealand, everybody was trying to stay at home, but it was quite relentless — the virus showed no signs of abating. . .

‘‘How do you stay at home when your home is a oneroom bamboo shelter?’’

It was good news the country was accepting asylum seekers, he said.

‘‘To have the further obstacle of not being able to be resettled because of a global pandemic, that just adds an additional pressure and stress into people’s lives.

‘‘It’s a wonderful thing that steps can be taken to move people into a more safe and secure future.’’

Once refugees leave the Mangere centre, the Red Cross supports them as they settle into life in a new country.

Red Cross general manager of migration Rachel O’Connor said many refugees trapped overseas were still waiting for news about their future.

‘‘You just feel gutted for the people who were so close to arriving in New Zealand after . . . an incredibly traumatic and difficult time.’’

Resuming the refugee quota was urgent, she said.

‘‘Right now while the quota isn’t occurring, people who were at risk are even at greater risk and so it’s even more important now that New Zealand thinks about its internatio­nal humanitari­an commitment­s and we’d very much like to see the quota restarted.’’

Mr Adams said New Zealand was in a good position to help and house the world’s most needy.

It was not a case of deciding between supporting New Zealand citizens or refugees.

‘‘. . .there’s an opportunit­y to support both and continue with our internatio­nal obligation­s to support refugees,’’ he said.

The Government has not announced when it will resume refugee intakes under the quota scheme.

Immigratio­n New Zealand said it could not confirm which countries the quota refugees would come from, as that would depend on internatio­nal border restrictio­ns and safe travel. — RNZ

❛ Everybody’s excited because we know how much it means for these families to be in a safe place and be

looked after

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