"Then came reality": lived experiences of refugee youth in their first 12 months in New Zealand
In 2012 New Zealand Red Cross Refugee services reviewed Its framework and services for resettlement of refugee youth ages 12-24. Information was gathered in focus groups or interviews with 76 people including youth, parents, Red Cross Refugee services’ staff and representatives of community groups and government agencies. The Review confirmed staff concerns and Informal feedback from youth and Refugee-background communities that experiences of resettling in New Zealand did not always meet the youths’ and their parents’ hopes and expectations for life In their new country.
The final report made recommendations to the New Zealand Red Cross on ways to continue improving the current service ensuring the high commitment to excellent resettlement that encompasses refugee youth and their whanau.
This report is an abridged version for external stakeholders which includes the findings of the review.
These findings, though originally aimed solely for NZRC use, captured a picture of the first year of settlement for refugee youth that has not been captured before. This information is shared with stakeholders to build awareness and knowledge within the settlement sector that may be useful for stakeholders and community in adapting current processes and programmes to better support refugee youth and families.
As might be expected, youth experienced difficulties understanding New Zealand culture and systems, communicating in English, and establishing social connections to develop friendships, activities and employment opportunities. Often, youth and parents were unaware of options available to them for addressing problems that arose during settlement or from their refugee journey.
The education system provided youth with some of their greatest challenges. Youth and parents did not understand how the New Zealand education system worked and what support was available – particularly with career guidance. Parents often felt disconnected from their children’s education because of language difficulties and cultural barriers. Not having access to computers, or knowing how to use them, made it difficult for youth to complete school work and homework.
Finding work was a significant problem for most youth participants. The main difficulties identified were getting career advice and help to overcome barriers to finding work in New Zealand (particularly a first job). Parents did not know how to guide their children. Being unable to find work changed youths’ view of themselves, and their dreams for rebuilding their lives in New Zealand. Many youth chose to return to study rather than continue to look for work.
Most youth found it harder than expected to make friends and build social networks with other New Zealanders. Many participants noted a lack of opportunities for youth to mix socially with others.
Mentoring and buddy systems were seen as helpful in contributing to social and educational achievement.
Most youth had experienced bullying, mainly at school. Youth identified the reason for the bullying as their ethnicity or religion or “being a refugee”. Youth often tried to deal with bullying on their own, for fear of worrying their parents or because they were unable to communicate with their teachers to tell them about the bullying.
Cultural identity was a key concern for youth and parents. Youth felt caught between their traditional culture and their new culture. Parents and ethnic community members expressed concern about youth losing their cultural heritage. The lack of knowledge about refugee issues in the community, along with racial stereotypes, also added to young people’s identity issues. iii New Zealand Red Cross Youth Resettlement Review Report May 2014 Sport was identified as an important factor in successful social participation.
Sport provided both social and physical benefits and good English language skills were not always needed. The two sports-based youth leadership programmes run as part of the review proved to be a great success in building participants’ confidence, skill levels and social connections.