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Cardinal Thomas Williams

It is with sadness that we remember the passing, in December 2023, of Cardinal Tom Williams. Cardinal Tom was one of our founding Patrons, and we will miss his kindness, support and encouragement.

Cardinal Thomas Williams

Thomas Williams was ordained a priest in Rome in 1959 and served in Palmerston North, Samoa and Porirua East parishes. He was Archbishop of Wellington from 1979 to 2005, and was appointed Cardinal in 1983. Cardinal Tom became a Member of the Order of New Zealand in 2000.

On World Refugee Day 2019 the Refugee Family Reunification Trust reached a milestone well worth celebrating when total donations reached two million dollars.  Kate O’Malley, Senior Policy Advisor at UNHCR in Canberra, gifted the Trust the symbolic ‘two millionth dollar’. Since 2001 the Trust’s generous supporters have helped reunite over 280 refugee families, including paying for more than 780 airfares. Every dollar donated has directly helped refugees because the Trust is run on an entirely voluntary basis.


In congratulating the Trust on its work, UNHCR Regional Representative, Louise Aubin, noted that family reunification was so important because it was fundamental to a refugee’s ability to integrate into a new country. “The Global Compact on Refugees, affirmed by the UN Assembly in late 2018 underlines the need for countries to do more to facilitate solutions, including through family reunification,” Ms Aubin said.  She praised the Trust and its partners and donors for showing “a great example of the collaboration and effort needed to ensure the global commitment of responsibility sharing for refugees can be realized.”

The following is the full congratulatory message from Louise Aubin, Regional Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees:
“I congratulate the Refugee Family Reunification Trust on the important work it has achieved through its committed support to refugee family reunification. Restoring family unity is a fundamental aspect of bringing back normality to the lives of refugees. It can ease the sense of loss felt by many who, in addition to family, have lost their country, network and life as they knew it. Family reunification can fundamentally affect a refugee’s ability to integrate in their new country and is often a crucial step in their settlement. The Global Compact on Refugees, affirmed by UN General Assembly in late 2018 underlines the need for countries to do more to facilitate solutions, including through family reunification. The important work of the Trust and the support of its partners and donors over 18 years is a great example of the collaboration and effort needed to ensure the global commitment of responsibility sharing for refugees can be realized.”

On 10 September 2015 around 3,000 people attended a candlelight vigil outside Parliament in support of welcoming more refugees to New Zealand. They generously donated $2,259 to the Refugee Family Reunification Trust. The vigil was organised by Amnesty International, Action Station and Doing Our Bit, and was a wonderful expression of support for refugees. We thank them for choosing the Trust as the recipient of the donations.

One sunny Friday afternoon in August, on the panoramic 24th floor of HSBC Tower on Lambton Quay, four refugee children happily biked around the Simpson Grierson boardroom on their new BMX bikes. For a deaf 9 year old Syrian boy, twin 7 year old girls from Ethiopia and a 10 year old Colombian boy, it was the first bike they had ever had. As part of the firm’s scholarship interviews, the law student candidates took part in a team-building activity involving assembling the bikes and then giving them, with helmets, to these children who had recently arrived in New Zealand.

Thank you to Simpson Grierson for its continuing support for refugees.

Wellington-based charity, the Refugee Family Reunification Trust, has now raised over one million dollars since its inception in 2001. The milestone was officially reached this week, thanks to a symbolic donation made by the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR.

Richard Towle, Regional Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, made the donation this week during a visit to his home country, New Zealand.

Towle said that the amount of money raised by the small charity over the past 12 years was a clear endorsement of the importance of its work in bringing back together families separated by war or persecution.

The Trust is run on an entirely voluntary basis, with no salaried staff and no premises, so 100 per cent of donations go to refugees. The organization helps fund the costs, including immigration and medical fees and air fares, of reuniting refugees with family members already in New Zealand.

Towle said he was delighted to be able to support the Trust in achieving its fundraising milestone, and hoped generous New Zealanders would continue to support its work.

“Despite the barest of resources, the Refugee Family Reunification Trust has achieved – and continues to achieve – exceptional results, helping reunite more than 150 families, many of whom have been through terrible trauma before reaching New Zealand.”
The Trust was launched in 2001 by Amanda Calder, a qualified lawyer, who became aware of the plight many families find themselves in, while providing free legal advice to help former refugees with immigration applications for family members.

Last year it assisted with 52 applications, providing $152,000 towards such costs, including paying airfares to New Zealand for 30 adults and 34 children.

It has helped reunite many married couples, and children with their parents – including a newborn baby girl who was left behind in Ethiopia, and twin girls now living with their mother after six years apart.

Amanda, who still chairs the Trust, said that many had been living in appalling situations in refugee camps.

“Not only do the family members here face language difficulties in negotiating the immigration process, the fees required by Immigration New Zealand, costs for medicals, and the airfares to bring their relatives here are simply beyond their means,” she said.
“It just seemed so very wrong that because of these costs people could not bring their close relatives, including their children, to New Zealand.
“Right now, we have more families we are fundraising to help in this way, so we really appreciate the support of the donors and fundraisers who contribute so much to support our efforts.”

Sincere thanks to Elite International School of Beauty and Spa Therapies, located at Level 2, 265 Wakefield St (by New World, Chaffers St), which kindly chose the Trust to receive proceeds from its 2012 student client sessions. In December 2012 a cheque for $12,352.06 was presented to the Trust – so please support them for all your beauty treatments at great prices, including facial treatments, manicures, pedicures, waxing, electrolysis and massage.

In December 2010, Te Papa Tongarewa selected the Trust as the charity to receive the gifts donated to it at Christmas time. A beautiful Christmas tree was set up in Te Papa’s foyer, and a wonderful number of presents soon accumulated under the tree! It gave us a great deal of pleasure to deliver these gifts to refugee families throughout Greater Wellington. Those families came to New Zealand from as far away as Burma, Afghanistan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Colombia. They were all surprised and delighted to receive these gifts, and the children in particular were very excited and happy. Our sincere appreciation to all those who donated gifts to Te Papa – your kindness and generosity gave a great deal of happiness to some of the least fortunate in our community.