Kurdish New Zealander Kaz Eskerie, in the red tie, in a refugee camp in Pakistan, 1992

When we were refugees

On World Refugee Day, New Zealanders of forced-migrant backgrounds share their memories of persecution and displacement, and their journeys to New Zealand.

At Aotearoa Resettled Community Coalition we engage with forced-migrant-background communities, acting as the bridge between those communities and government and non-governmental service providers. For us, World Refugee Day means remembering those who did not make it through the journey to safety and those who did not have the opportunity to flee persecution, death, detention and abuse.

We stand in solidarity with the refugees that are still suffering in refugee camps throughout the world. And we also celebrate the successes of those living in their new home countries. In our When We Were Refugees series, immigrant New Zealanders share their journeys of resettlement to Aotearoa New Zealand.

Ash Ali-Aziz, 1992, on the right enjoying a dolma made by Mum

Country of Origin: Kurdistan

Country of Asylum: Iran and Pakistan

Country of Resettlement: Aotearoa New Zealand

My family, and thousands of Kurds fled Kurdistan to Iran in the 70s due to the first Iraqi-Kurdish war. Iran was starting to become home for my family and many Kurds, especially because it was so close to Kurdistan. Many hoped we could safely return home soon. However, a decade later the Iran-Iraq war started (spanned from 1980-1988). In the late 1980s my family and many Kurds decided to flee to Pakistan as it no longer became safe for them. My dad with one child in each hand, my mother pregnant with me and holding another child, fleeing by foot for days and eventually got in a cargo truck where they snuck into Pakistan. Iraq and Iran were not safe for any Kurd at that time.

We arrived in Quetta, Pakistan in 1989 at a camp with hundreds of other Kurdish Families, I was born in August that year. In some ways we were lucky because the Kurdish community was tight and stuck together, we even shared homes with one another.

Despite our situation, the United Nations didn’t grant us a refugee status for the first five years. We were all shocked, and couldn’t understand why the UN would not see us as refugees. We would camp outside the UN, Kurdish members would go on hunger strikes, we even lost a family friend who passed away from hunger. At one peaceful protest, all the Kurds got arrested and we were put in jail for one month. They separated the women from men, we weren’t able to see our dad for the entire time. They broke my mother’s wrist with a stick and she couldn’t seek medical help as they thought she would run away. For one month we were detained in a prison, I was five at the time.

Not long after though the Kurds were given refugee status, it was sometime around 1994. A few years later, many Kurds were moved to the US, Canada, Europe, Australia and some here to NZ. The UN decided to move my family to NZ in 1997, when I was eight. This is when life really began for me.

Faisal Farghaly, 2013, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Country of Origin: Sudan

Country of Asylum: Malaysia

Country of Resettlement: Aotearoa New Zealand

Life in Sudan was good, growing up I had worked hard and became the owner of three successful petrol stations. At the time Sudan was in a deadly civil war by itself. Sudan never had a democratic government that cared for its citizens. The government was not happy with the progress I made, and whenever the government wanted to confiscate a business, it would describe the business owner as an enemy of the state. My business was taken and my life was at a high risk, so I planned my escape out of Khartoum, Sudan.

With the help of good friends, my family and I escaped to Malaysia in 2010 where I stayed for 4 years. It took me and my family two years to be recognised as refugees in Malaysia, and got refugee status later in 2012.

There were no refugee camps in Malaysia at the time. Life was difficult without support from the United Nations for me and my family, but I used the little money from my petrol business in Sudan and started a tourism business in Malaysia to support my family. One has to work out his brain in order to survive in such situations. Life in Malaysia wasn’t the best for us as we always felt like outsiders.

We finally moved to this beautiful country in 2014 through the United Nations process. My family and I love New Zealand, the nature, the people, the limitless opportunities, the freedom. We are proud Kiwis now.

Kaz Eskerie, 1992, in red tie

Country of Origin: Kurdistan, Iraq

Countries of Asylum: Iran, Pakistan

Country of Resettlement: Aotearoa New Zealand

My parents fled Kurdistan, Iraq in the 80s around the time of the Kurdish genocide. They fled to Iran, but soon Iran also became unsafe for my parents and family who were Peshmerga’s (military forces of the autonomous region of Kurdistan Region of Iraq) and well known activists. So we eventually escaped to Pakistan in cargo trucks along with a number of other Kurdish families. We were living in camps in Pakistan and were told we will be resettled in two months. However it took eight years for us to be recognised as refugees and accepted to resettle in New Zealand in April 1999.

This photo was taken in Pakistan, we had been living there for two years at the time. We didn’t get to dress up and take family photos often hence why I cherish this photo very much. I was a qualified personal trainer and now a successful real estate agent. I do feel incredibly lucky to have had opportunity to succeed in New Zealand.

Tsehainesh Hibtit, 1993, standing second left

Country of Origin: Eritrea

Country of Asylum: Sudan

Country of Resettlement: Aotearoa New Zealand

I am from Eritrea, in 1984 I decided to leave home because of the war during that time. I travelled from Eritrea to Sudan with my family. In Sudan I completed my high school years and was a teacher for two years before I migrated to NZ with my husband, my sister in law had sponsored us to come to NZ at that time. I was in Sudan for nine years. I arrived in New Zealand in 1995. I came to New Zealand for a better opportunity and a chance to start a new life with my husband. New Zealand has given me that, I now have a second home in which I have raised three girls and I am very grateful for the opportunities that I have had living here.

I have lived here in NZ for the past 25 years. I consider myself as successfully resettled in NZ society and this success is measured by the accomplishments of my children, Aotearoa has given not only myself but even my family the opportunities that many long for.

Yobithan Rajaratnan, 2012, in striped shirt with his mum in yellow beside him

Country of Origin: Sri Lanka

Country of Asylum: Indonesia

Country of Resettlement: Aotearoa New Zealand

We left Sri Lanka in 2012 after the civil war which were internal conflicts between groups. Our family was heavily affected by these conflicts so we had to leave our home as it was no longer safe for us. We decided to risk it and take a boat to Australia. We got stuck in the middle of the Indian Ocean due to engine failure. There were over 46 people including three children on board. After 28 days we ran out of food and priority went to two pregnant women and the children on the boat. Although this was tough for us as we all had very little to eat, it was still nice to see the humanity in everyone else.

Being out in the sea was not easy, especially during the full moon as it caused huge waves for a small boat like ours we thought it would collapse any minute.

At one point we were able to connect to the radio with the Australian Navy for help, however we were turned down as we weren’t in their borders, we weren’t in anyone’s border so we weren’t anyone’s responsibility. The Australian Navy did however connect with other rescue commissions. After 45 days of being stranded in the Indian Ocean we were eventually rescued by International’s Rescue Committee, the mission took about a week and after two failed attempts we were finally rescued. We arrived in Indonesia where we sought asylum, we stayed at a detention centre for four months then moved to a camp. It was August 2014 where we were told that we would be resettled in New Zealand, where the next chapter of our life would begin.

Asif Rajpoot Bhatti, 2014, second from right

Country of Origin: Pakistan

Country of Asylum: Thailand

Country of Resettlement: Aotearoa New Zealand

My family and I were persecuted for being Muslims, at one point I was even beaten up by an extremist because of my faith. We had to flee to Thailand for safety, waiting to be resettled. In this photo we were celebrating our friend who got accepted to resettle in the United States. I would wonder everyday when our turn for resettlement would come. Finally we got accepted in to a country where we could freely practise our religion: Aotearoa New Zealand.

Aotearoa Resettled Community Coalition engages and connects with forced migrant background communities who have lived refugee experiences. ARCC aims to promote forced migrant lived experience, share their stories and first-hand information about the New Zealand resettlement process to foster positive outcomes of integration and belonging. You can donate here.



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