Across the world there are over 100 million displaced people. 32 million of them are refugees. Each year New Zealand takes in around 1000 refugees, who fled their home countries because of persecution or war.
But the refugee journey doesn’t magically end when they land on Aotearoa’s shores.
Carrying with them their hopes and dreams for the future, alongside their trauma from the past, they must now reshape their lives in an entirely new and strange country.
This series follows the dramatic journeys of six refugee families as they resettle in New Zealand.
Afghanistan: Gul and Mujaheda
Gul, his wife Mujaheda, and his family narrowly escaped Kabul, Afghanistan in late 2021. As the US military retreated from their 20 years of occupation of the country the Taliban swiftly retook power. Caught in the middle were ordinary citizens like Gul who is a Hazara, a member of a Shia Muslim minority who have been persecuted for over a century.
Gul narrowly escaped but was forced to abandon other family members in the rush to leave. He also lost his thriving tourism business which he had built up over a decade. His greatest achievement during that time was organising Afghanistan’s first international mixed gender marathon in 2015.
Now Gul and his wife must rebuild their lives in New Zealand, with Gul trying to restart his tourism business, Mujaheda learning English, and their youngest daughter starting school. To reignite his passion for running Gul trains for the Auckland Marathon and plans to organise a commemorative running event to honour his home country.
Colombia:Diana, Sonia, Leudy, Yeidy
In 2016 Sonia and her sisters Diana, Leudy and Yeidy, along with their families, found themselves on the run after a Colombian rightwing death squad began hunting them down. Given only 72 hours to leave, they fled to Ecuador where, for years, they barely survived.
In March 2022 they landed in New Zealand and began their resettlement journey in Invercargill, which hosts around 250 former Colombian refugees.
But the daughters’ parents and Sonia’s 16 year old son remain behind in Colombia. While struggling to learn English they plan their future and that of their children. They must also support their sister Yeidy, who suffers from a severe health condition.
Ukraine:Andrii and Olha
Andrii (63) and wife Olha (69), fled their hometown of Sloviansk after Russia’s shock invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Escaping with just two suitcases they were forced to abandon their home and business, alongside over eight million other Ukrainians.
They travelled to New Zealand to join their daughter Kate, a Kiwi citizen. But unlike others escaping war most Ukrainians in New Zealand are not accorded refugee status. They now live in great uncertainty on a two year visa which will expire in April 2024.
Kate, who is also a member of Mahi for Ukraine (a group advocating for Ukrainians who have been uprooted by the war), fights for the right for her parents, and other Ukrainians, to stay. We film her attending a meeting with the Immigration Minister.
In the meantime Olha attends English classes while Andrii seeks work as a manual labourer. But, with no clarity regarding their right to remain in New Zealand, the elderly couple now live in a state of constant anxiety.
Pakistan: Changezi and Madiha
As Hazara Muslims, a Shia minority, Changezi and his family lived under constant threat of attack in Pakistan. After a series of bombings by Islamic fundamentalists in 2013, which killed over 200 Hazaras, Changezi knew they had to leave.
After paying off people smugglers, Changezi and his family landed in Indonesia. But with no right to work in that country they languished hopelessly for months alongside other refugees. Driven by the belief that they should uplift themselves Changezi and Madiha started a learning centre for refugees which grew to enrol over 300 people.
In 2018 they were accepted as refugees to New Zealand and, after arrival, began their resettlement journey in Hamilton.
In the spirit of self-reliance Changezi works his way up to head the Refugee Orientation Centre in Hamilton, and Madiha completes her law degree and is also invited to talk at a UN conference.
Syria: Hussein and Zainab
Hussein and his wife Zainab fled Syria’s brutal civil war for Jordan. But life for refugees in Jordan was harsh with most living below the poverty line.
Hussein and Zainab and their two children arrived in New Zealand in July 2022 and were placed in Timaru alongside other Syrians.
Hussein works hard to embrace life in New Zealand but Zainab is still struggling with homesickness. While he starts work she studies English. They also both attend weekly English classes, and work as volunteers supporting other refugees. Zainab reveals that she is pregnant, and is elated that her child will be born in New Zealand.
Pakistan: Joseph and Samina
Joseph and Samina are devout Christians who escaped Pakistan after it became unsafe for them to continue practising their religion. They left secretly for Malaysia with other family members.
Living in Malaysia was a struggle since refugees there are accorded few rights. Joseph and Samina and their immediate family were accepted as refugees by New Zealand in 2017. But her sisters, one of whom is disabled, and her brother were not so lucky and remain stuck in Malaysia to this day.
The family settled in Hamilton, and Joseph, with help from his church, is able to start his own tech repair business. But confronted by homelessness, drug dealing in the vicinity of his shop, and violent customers, maintaining his business is a challenge.
In the meantime Samina continues to fight to bring over her disabled sister who has now languished in Malaysia for almost a decade.
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