In this section you can find answers to many of the questions we are most frequently asked about our work and about refugee issues generally.
To make access to this information easier we have divided these questions up into a series of lists:
- Refugees in general
- Refugees in New Zealand
- New Zealand Red Cross Refugee Services' work
- Refugee resettlement volunteer support workers
For more information, please contact your local Red Cross Refugee Services office, and we are happy to answer any of your inquiries.
Who is a refugee?
The definition of a refugee according to the 1951 Refugee Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees is:
"A person who, owing to a 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 his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country."
How many refugees are there in the world?
The number varies each year. It is usually influenced by new conflicts or wars around the world. The number of refugees under UNHCR's responsibility rose 10.5 million by the end of 2010 and the total population of concern (including internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, and more) rose to nearly 34 million. More detailed information is available in UNHCR's Frequently Requested Statistics, Global Trends 2011 or the UNHCR website. To view UNHCR's State of the World's Refugees 2012, click here.
Which countries have resettlement or quota programmes?
Nine governments - United States, Canada, Australia, Sweden, Norway, Finland, New Zealand, Denmark and The Netherlands - currently host the bulk of refugees who are annually resettled in new countries. Finding other states willing to accept vulnerable people and strengthening recently introduced programmes in places like Chile, Benin, Burkina Faso, Brazil, Ireland, Iceland and the United Kingdom has become a UNHCR priority. Other countries accept cases on an ad hoc basis. The USA and Canada have the biggest numerical programmes but, proportionate to population, New Zealand's 750 is one of the highest rates of acceptance in the world.
Do many refugees go back to their own countries?
Many refugees cannot return to their home countries for political and security reasons. Sometimes, if their own country becomes safe and peaceful again, refugees may decide to return home. This is called "repatriation".
The UNHCR website has a more extensive list of questions and answers about refugees and their protection.
How many refugees does New Zealand accept each year?
Under the government's annual Refugee Quota Programme New Zealand currently accepts up to 750 refugees each year. It is set each year by Cabinet on the advice of the Minister of Immigration and relevant Government departments.
Does New Zealand have to take an annual quota of refugees?
No. In fact, New Zealand is one of a handful of countries that operate a regular refugee quota programme. This is part of New Zealand's contribution to finding durable solutions for some of the world's many millions of refugees.
Are there publicly available settlement statistics for refugees in New Zealand?
Yes. Immigration New Zealand has published statistics on the refugees and asylum seekers who come to New Zealand. They can be downloaded here. You can also find more information about the different communities of refugees who have come to New Zealand since the 19th century here.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) is the international organisation responsible for protecting the world's refugees and seeking durable solutions for them. UNHCR decides which refugees are in the greatest need of resettlement and asks resettlement countries to consider accepting them. However, after interviewing them, it is the New Zealand government that makes the final decision about who will be accepted.
What rights and entitlements do quota refugees have on arrival in New Zealand?
All refugees accepted by New Zealand under the Refugee Quota Programme complete a six-week orientation programme at the Mangere Refugee Centre. All Quota refugees are permanent residents of New Zealand and are eligible for a range of benefits and supplementary allowances on arrival. They enjoy the same rights as any other New Zealand permanent resident in the areas of education, health, employment, and social welfare. After five years, they may apply for New Zealand citizenship.
Our agency makes the final decision but a lot of care and consultation goes into where refugees are placed. On completion of the six-week orientation programme at the Mangere Refugee Centre, refugees are usually resettled in major cities where we have offices. These include Auckland, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Wellington, Hutt Valley, Porirua, Nelson and Christchurch. Wherever possible, refugees are placed with family or close to friends. Refugee Resettlement and its volunteers ensure that they have access to essential community services including work opportunities, unemployment benefits, English classes, schools, health services and appropriate spiritual and ethnic community support.
What are asylum seekers or spontaneous refugees?
These are people who travel to New Zealand by themselves and arrive at one of the country's ports of entry (usually an airport - but sometimes a sea port). On arrival (or soon after) they tell the government that they are refugees fleeing from persecution. They must then make an official application for refugee status. They are carefully interviewed by officers of the Refugee Status Branch (RSB) of the Immigration New Zealand who will make an initial decision about whether their claim is considered genuine. If their application is declined, they have the right to appeal the decision to the Refugee Status Appeals Authority (RSAA), which will normally make the final decision. Occasionally a decision of the RSAA may be challenged in the High Court. However, such appeals are seldom successful.
If an asylum seeker's case is found to be genuine, then s/he is granted refugee status. These people are sometimes referred to as convention refugees, because they are determined to meet the criteria laid out in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, but they effectively have the same status as refugees who arrive in the official quota. They are normally granted permanent residence along with all its rights and entitlements. For further information contact the Refugee Council of New Zealand or New Zealand Refugee Law
Are asylum seekers detained in New Zealand?
Asylum seekers who arrive in New Zealand without proper documentation are often detained on arrival, to allow the government to confirm their identity and ensure that they do not pose a threat to our national security or have criminal intentions. Once this has been established, such people may be "conditionally released" into the community. They must live in an agreed location and report periodically to the authorities while they are awaiting the outcome of their application for refugee status.
People on conditional release have limited access to basic social entitlements and cannot be granted temporary Work Permits.
People who enter New Zealand with legal documentation (and subsequently apply for refugee status) are normally granted a Temporary Work Permit and are also eligible for a greater range of social security benefits.
What type of work does New Zealand Red Cross Refugee Services do with refugees?
New Zealand Red Cross Refugee Services provides practical support for refugees once they arrive in New Zealand. Our professional staff includes qualified social workers, refugee background caseworkers, cross cultural workers and trainers/supervisors of community volunteers. We provide a wide range of services to assist refugees with the many challenges of adjusting to a new culture and society.
Does New Zealand Red Cross Refugee Services work with asylum seekers and migrants?
While the organisation previously provided support to both asylum seekers and migrants, currently the primary focus is on settlement support for refugees. However, many of our offices are in centres that have support services for migrants and New Zealand Red Cross is involved with asylum seeker-related issues.
How many refugees does New Zealand Red Cross Refugee Services help each year?
New Zealand accepts a guaranteed quota of 750 refugees annually and Refugee Resettlement is the agency contracted to help these new arrivals resettle. We estimate that since the agency began work in 1976 we have helped around 40,000 refugees make a new life in New Zealand.
Where are the offices located?
The Refugee Services National Office is in Wellington and there are nine other offices around the country in Auckland, the Mangere Refugee Reception Centre, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Lower Hutt, Porirua, Wellington, Nelson and Christchurch.
How many paid staff and volunteers does New Zealand Red Cross Refugee Services have?
We employ around 100 full time and part time administration staff, social workers and cross-cultural workers. We train around 400 new volunteer support workers each year and work with approximately 100 additional returning volunteers to help newly arrived refugees settle in their new communities.
I want to help Refugee Services in its work. What can I do?
The two major ways to help are by training as a volunteer support worker with us or by donating money to help us in our work. More information about what to do and how to do it can be found in our How you can help section.
What do refugee resettlement volunteer support workers do?After successfully completing the volunteer support worker training course, volunteers are put into teams of up to four people and matched with a family to support for the next six months. Volunteers assist with tasks like:
- setting up homes;
- linking with Work & Income, schools, ESOL (English as a Second Language) courses, local doctors;
- orientation to their local community (facilities, public transport)
- ongoing support (hospital appointments, mail, Work & Income appointments, social visits);
- alerting Refugee Services professional staff to special needs or issues.
What kind of people do you need?
Our volunteers come from a huge range of backgrounds. What we really need is people who enjoy meeting people from other cultures and would like to share their own; who want to help refugees adapt to live in New Zealand and who have time to spend with a refugee family/individual.
Do you need volunteers all over the country?
At present we can only train volunteers in the major resettlement centres of Auckland, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Wellington, Hutt Valley, Porirua, Nelson and Christchurch.
Are there any special skills or knowledge required?
Volunteers should have good knowledge of New Zealand community links and organisations; reasonable English language and communication skills and be self- directed. They should also be able to work independently and as part of a team. The most important skills are an empathy with others and an openness to different cultures and peoples.
How much time is involved?
The training course, which must be completed before you can be assigned to a refugee placement, is around 17.5 hours long. There are seven sessions which may be run as a series of evening classes or over weekends. Immediately prior to the refugees arriving in the community the time commitment is greater as houses need to be set up and other preparations made. Each case is unique and can vary with time commitment, however, usually the first six weeks are the busiest. The coordinator from your region can give more detailed advice.