Identifying the hurdles faced by refugee and migrant people

Isolation and a lack of English are among the issues facing people of migrant and refugee background in Canterbury, according to qualitative research from the All Right? campaign.

The research consisted of six two-hour long discussion groups and in-depth interviews with people from refugee and migrant communities in Christchurch. Participants came from a range of countries including Somalia, Sudan, Korea, China and Bhutan.

All Right? manager Sue Turner says the findings make emotional reading. “Many of the participants have endured hardships most New Zealanders will never face. Sadly, we’ve found that those who come to Christchurch are also confronted with some major hurdles in their new life here.”

Among the issues are isolation with participants reporting that they found it very hard to make friends in Canterbury, a lack of English, the pressure of straddling two cultures (trying to understand and learn about kiwi culture while trying to hold onto their own) and battling to feel accepted.

“The participants all agreed that being able to speak English was vital to starting a new life in Canterbury – it affects everything from your ability to get a job and make friends to being able to buy essentials.”

The research also found that many participants feel the earthquakes have made their lives worse in Canterbury.

Sue Turner says the increase in rents and shortage in housing has hit the refugee and migrant communities particularly hard. “The lack of affordable housing makes finding somewhere to live particularly difficult. Many spoke of having to accept poor quality housing, needing to live with extended family or feeling like being chosen to rent a house is a competition they’re unlikely to win.”

“Experience overseas tells us that those who had little before a natural disaster are often among the most negatively impacted and in Canterbury our quantitative research shows that 69% of people agree the gap between the haves and have nots has widened over the last four years.”

The Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce is leading a group of organisations and businesses, including All Right?, in a project called Start with a Smile. Start with a Smile encourages Cantabrians to engage with the thousands of migrants who have moved here since the earthquakes.

The Chamber’s chief executive Peter Townsend says talking to Christchurch’s new residents is really important. “The Canterbury rebuild has relied on the skills and work of the migrant population for the past five years. Kiwi-born residents need to make an effort to help these residents feel part of our communities. Without healthy communities, we cannot have healthy businesses.”

All Right? manager Sue Turner says the research shows that more interaction is needed. “It’s important that we all realise we can help improve the situation by simply making more of an effort to reach out and talk to newcomers. Even smiling at someone can make a huge difference to how they feel.”

Christchurch Resettlement Services manager Shirley Wright says refugee and migrant people bring valuable diversity to the city. “Given the opportunity, refugee and migrant people have the potential to contribute in very important ways to the recovery of Christchurch. It’s important everyone feels connected and engaged so that we have strong, diverse communities.”

Many of the participants in the research talked about how they feel ignored at times – with one woman saying her neighbours don’t even respond when her 3 year old daughter says hello.

“A smile would help take that ill feeling away. So many refugee and migrant people have the most incredible stories to tell of how they came to New Zealand and how they have coped with struggles most of us will never experience. We can learn a lot from not just smiling but talking and forming friendships with them.”

“Our challenge to Canterbury this year is to not just Start with a Smile but to continue with a chat. The little things we do can make huge difference to how others feel and now, with thousands of migrants having moved to Canterbury, reaching out to newcomers is more important than ever before,” concludes Sue Turner.