In the past eight years, the Trust has approved a total of 162 applications for assistance from refugees in Wellington needing help with the costs of bringing their families to join them here. Some refugees have needed assistance on more than one occasion, for example, at the beginning of the immigration process (with the costs of application fees and medicals required by Immigration New Zealand), and then with the cost of the airfares – the final step in reuniting a family. As a result, in the past eight years, a total of 126 refugee families have been helped by the Trust. It is very rewarding to see so many families reunited after such a long separation from each other, and to know that the Trust has played a vital part in this outcome.
In the past year alone, the Trust has approved 22 applications for funding from refugees living in Wellington to enable them to be reunited with their family members who had been left behind, at a cost of approximately $74,000.
It is important to note that the total number of refugees benefitting through the Trust is even greater than these numbers indicate, as most refugees assisted by the Trust have brought out more than one family member. For example, this year 7 applications for funding resulted in the Trust paying for airfares to bring 24 refugees – including 12 children – to join their families in Wellington, at a cost of $54,000.
Without the help of the Trust, many of these families would not have been able to begin the immigration process or, at the final stage, been able to pay for the high cost of the airfares. Since it was established in 2001, the Trust has paid for airfares to bring around 282 refugees – many of whom were children and young people – to re–join their families in Wellington.
Since the Trust was established, we have raised more than half a million dollars for refugees. We are particularly proud of this achievement, as not a single dollar of donations has been used to generate this income. We do not pay for advertising or for fundraisers, so that 100% of donations can be given to refugees. We do not pay any salaries or rent, and no remuneration is paid to the Trustees. The Trust does not receive any government funding.
Separate funding is obtained specifically for necessary administration costs (such as audit costs, postage, envelopes, printing the annual newsletter etc). However, we are able to keep these administration costs to a bare minimum, due to the Trust’s reliance on unpaid volunteers.
In appropriate cases, the Trust also provides interest–free loans to refugees, and these loans are often repaid well within the usual one–year period. In this way, the Trust plays a unique and valuable role in helping refugees overcome immediate, but sometimes short–term, difficulties posed by the expenses of family reunification.
By nationality, the families who have been assisted by the Trust were originally from Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iraq, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Liberia, Sudan, Myanmar and Banda Ache. Many of these families were living in refugee camps in Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan.
Due to the number of families needing assistance from the Trust, some families have had to wait for several months before we were able to obtain sufficient funding to help them. Although it is sometimes difficult for the Trust to raise money, it is even more difficult for refugees to do this for themselves. We will continue to do our best to raise enough money to help all refugees in Wellington who are eligible to be reunited with their families.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), with the generous support of partner governments, resettles around 65,000 refugees from around the world to countries like New Zealand where they will restart their lives.
As some of the most vulnerable people on earth, who have survived threats to life and physical security, it is important that refugees are afforded a warm welcome and good support services to help them begin to rebuild their lives as they settle and integrate into their new country.
During his visit in February 2009, High Commissioner António Guterres remarked on the excellent settlement services provided by New Zealand and the warm welcome extended to refugees by its people.
The maintenance of family ties is one of the most critical factors for the wellbeing of refugees as they establish themselves in a new country. Many have had to leave behind family and loved ones and are unable to settle effectively while family members remain trapped in places of instability, persecution and conflict.
But while reunification is very important for refugees and their families, it can also be extremely difficult to achieve, both logistically and financially.
That is why I'd like to pass on the appreciation of UNHCR for the work done by the Refugee Family Reunification Trust in helping to bring families back together.
Since 2001, the Trust has raised more than half a million dollars which has gone to help 126 refugee families to be reunited.
This is a wonderful achievement of which the Trustees, volunteers, donors and supporters can all be proud.
The first hand stories UNHCR hears about families being reunited, and the real difference this makes to their lives, gives us hope that the Trust will continue its important work long into the future.
UNHCR Regional Representative for Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific
We are extremely grateful to all our donors, without whom we could not have successfully reunited so many deserving families. The ongoing support of generous individuals and charitable organisations has continued to provide the foundation for our success. Please continue your support, as each donation is a vital contribution towards reuniting a family.
The Trustees wish to sincerely thank all our donors, including regular contributors who donate by automatic payment. Your continued support is critical.
Several individuals and private Trusts, who wish to remain anonymous, have made very generous donations to our Trust. Other significant donors over the past year include Caritas, the Thomas George Macarthy Trust, the JR McKenzie Trust, New Zealand Post, the Nikau Foundation, the Tindall Foundation, and Queen Margaret College. Special thanks also to Karori Normal School, phil&ted's Buggies for Good programme, Caffe L'affare and Toi Design. We very much appreciate this widespread support.
All work for the Trust is undertaken on a voluntary basis, and many volunteers have kindly given their time. Special thanks to Chris Brimer for keeping the accounts. The English Language Partners Wellington supports us in a number of ways, including by the use of their box number. We would also like to thank the Trust’s auditor, Peter Scholtens. Stella Daniell kindly took the photographs for the Christmas card and for this newsletter, and David Colls again generously donated his time to format this newsletter.
The Refugee Family Reunification Trust has been working with three Non-Governmental Organisations in Wellington to seek to improve existing refugee family reunification policies and practices. These three NGOs are Wellington Refugees As Survivors Trust (the mental health service for refugees suffering from torture and trauma); the Wellington Community Law Centre (which has provided free legal advice since 1997 to refugees seeking to be reunited with family members); and ChangeMakers Refugee Forum Inc (which is a pan-refugee development agency representing the interests of thirteen refugee communities in the Wellington region).
As a first step, we have worked together to prepare a discussion document titled "Refugee Family Reunification in Wellington".
These NGOs work with refugees on a daily basis, and recognize that reunification with family members is a key part of the successful refugee resettlement process. Preoccupation with the predicament of family members left behind in difficult circumstances, and the time and energy committed to seeking reunification, can be substantial barriers to progress with other aspects of resettlement. Concern for family overseas often impacts negatively on mental and physical health, and compromises the person’s ability to focus on language development, education, and employment. Wellington Refugees as Survivors Trust has found that their clients’ well–being and assimilation into their new country improves markedly once they are reunited with family. In fact, most clients no longer required their services once the family is back together again.
The discussion document highlights flaws in existing policies applicable to refugees, and in particular in relation to the Refugee Family Support Category, and recommends that an urgent review be undertaken.
One of the main recommendations of the discussion document is the establishment of a working group (including representatives from refugee communities, NGOs and the government) to address the issues and concerns raised, and to report back to the Minister of Immigration.
It is hoped that the discussion document helps to identify, and offer solutions to, major barriers to successful refugee family reunification in New Zealand, and provides a basis for ongoing discussion. The document has been forwarded to New Zealand’s Minister of Immigration, Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman, and to Richard Towle, Regional Representative, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific. The document can be found at www.wnras.org.nz.
The Refugee Family Reunification Trust is a charitable trust incorporated under the Charitable Trusts Act 1957 and registered under the Charities Act 2005. Donations of $5 or more can be tax deductible.
The purpose of the Trust is to financially assist refugees in Wellington to bring immediate family members to join them here. Reuniting these families greatly improves the lives of those refugees already living in New Zealand, and is critical to their successful resettlement and integration.
All money raised is used exclusively to help refugees pay for the expenses directly related to bringing family members from refugee situations. This includes application fees charged by, and medical reports required by, Immigration New Zealand, and the cost of airfares to bring approved family members to New Zealand.