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Posts Tagged ‘refugees’

The President’s Dilemma (Rising Sea Levels in Kiribati)

Friday, March 26th, 2010

In Kiribati each tide is now a ‘king tide’ with waves which can wash over the 2 metre high islands. Drinking water which was once fresh is now getting salty; food can no longer be grown in the ground; and the islands themselves are washing away - fast. The younger generation have been encouraged to get a good education so they can live somewhere else in the world without being a burden to others. Those who remain will need to find funds to build sea walls, introduce crops for the new climate and catch the rain.

But for the I-Kiribati who remain, the clock will be ticking…

Earthless Trees

Friday, October 16th, 2009

Nicholas Mutch

trees-teamEarthless Trees, a book with eleven diverse short stories exploring the experiences of refugees in New Zealand, gives a unique insight into a group of people whose stories deserve to be told. In reading this book, and in writing this article, I came to feel something of a strange, out of place emotion. Despite some of the horrible imagery and the enormous trials faced by some of these refugees, I almost felt a pang of envy. As all writers can attest to, I aspire to have a personal story worthy writing about, and I know that nothing I could write about my life, no matter how eloquent or well written could be anywhere near as interesting or moving as the story of someone who has been displaced from their homeland. I am sure I would think differently if I had experienced war, famine or persecution, and I don’t wish to diminish the refugee experience, but I found Earthless Trees a fascinating collection of stories worth telling.

Refugees in New Zealand
When talking about refugee experiences it is very important to know some background information. The term refugee is sometimes used a little loosely but the United Nations has a very specific definition: ‘A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.’ Basically, what all that means is someone is forced to seek refuge in a foreign country because their safety, human rights or lives are at risk in their home country owing to their ethnicity or beliefs. An immigrant on the other hand is someone who voluntarily moves from one country to another for any number of various reasons. Figures vary, but the UNHCR - The UN refugee agency - reports that there are over 11 million people who fit these criteria.

Although the exact number varies, New Zealand has a quota of 750 refugees it accepts per year. Once they have been accepted into the country, refugees can ‘sponsor’ family members (including children and spouses) to come and join them. There are also many other people who seek asylum on reaching New Zealand.


Refugee Stories
The stories in Earthless Trees detail the experiences of young refugees before, during and after their journeys to New Zealand. Refugees generally come from countries that are burdened with anything from a dictatorial regime, such as the one Yugoslavia suffered in the 1990s, to the conflict, civil war and anarchy which has devastated Somalia since the 1970s. One of the best things the book does is give destructive conflicts, such as these, a very human face. Joseph Stalin once made the morbidly insightful comment that the death of one man is a tragedy; the death of millions is a statistic. Telling the stories of individuals who survive, despite losing their family, homes and sense of security in these conflicts, is far more powerful than a report that states something like ‘74 people were killed today in a bombing raid.’

The stories themselves are the experiences of young refugees from Ethiopia, Somalia and Afghanistan. With a few exceptions, the stories are honest and saddening depictions of life in war torn situations. Even though these stories are very personal descriptions of the situations refugees found themselves in, I would have found it helpful to have some background information about the specific conflicts. This would have given me a better understanding of the historical context of the stories. This does, however, offer interested readers a good opportunity to do some research of their own, something I would recommend to make to get the most out of the stories.

caligWhile all the stories are very interesting, the highlight for me was two stories written by Shamim Homayun, ‘Words of Honey and Sugar’ and ‘Elements of Good Calligraphy’. They are stories about Afghanistan’s cultural history, with one story describing the experiences of girl whose father ran an opium den, and the second about the art of ancient Arabic calligraphy. These stories were fascinating as they were beautifully written by Shamim, who has a great eye for suspense and drama, while at the same time introducing me to elements of Arabic culture and history that were completely new to me.

All of the stories in Earthless Trees deserve to be read, as they contain poignant and moving accounts of real life experiences and situations that you might otherwise never hear about. The only way to really understand these stories of course is to read the book, so why don’t you contact Refugees as Survivors and purchase a copy for yourself!


It is World Refugee Day on June 20, but it is always a good time to get involved in helping make the difficult lives of New Zealand refugees easier. Check out the ideas below.

•The easiest way to help out is simply to be a friend to refugees in your school or community.

•Find out more about refugees - this may not sound like much, but the more we understand about the struggles refugees face, the more likely we are to create worthwhile friendships and welcoming communities.

•Think about volunteering, check out


earthless-trees-cover1Check out some articles by refugees at Just Focus:

Watch videos from the YouTube Young Refugees Speak Up channel

Have a look at refugee focused sites like:

Refugees as Survivors: &


Refugee Services Aotearoa NZ:

Voice It (a radio programme and publication from young refugees in Aotearoa NZ):

Mixit (Auckland based arts project):

INTERVIEW with Samson Sahele (Coordinator of the Earthless Trees Project)

What was the main purpose of Earthless Trees?

The main purposes were:

-to build capacity in young refugees,
-teach creative writing skills,
-creating a career path and to helping young refugees with their education
-spread the word about the situation of refugees in New Zealand.

How have the participants of the project contributed to their local communities?

The participants have become a voice of their community by telling their community issues to different main stream media sectors.

The participants have become roles model for the young refugee groups in Wellington. They also have now the confidence to participate in mainstream writing groups and other public events on behalf of their community.

What do you think is the best way for people to get involved if they want to lend helping hand to refugees in their local communities?

The best way for people from the host community to get involved is by visiting our office, by visiting different refugee service provider web sites, becoming volunteers and by participating in community events such as World Refugee day on ‘09 June 20th.

This article was originally published in Tearaway Magazine.

Earthless Trees - Short Stories by Young Refugees in NZ

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

Edited by Pauline Frances

trees_photo1Created during a series of writing workshops, these vibrant stories provide an insight into the lives of young New Zealanders - individuals who came to New Zealand seeking security and freedom.

The Wellington Refugees as Survivors Trust (RAS) put together 10 workshops for participants from Sudan, Iraq, Somalia, Ethiopia and Afghanistan. Writers Dame Fiona Kidman and Dr Ingrid Horrocks also volunteered their expertise.

Some of the stories tell of life in the countries these young people come from including disastrous situations such as war, while others are personal memories of new friendships made in New Zealand.

Our library copy is even signed by some of the authors!

You can join our library and get books and DVDs out for Free!

Global warming already causes 300,000 deaths a year

Friday, July 17th, 2009

Climate change is already responsible for 300,000 deaths a year and is affecting 300m people, according to the first comprehensive study of the human impact of global warming

It projects that increasingly severe heatwaves, floods, storms and forest fires will be responsible for as many as 500,000 deaths a year by 2030, making it the greatest humanitarian challenge the world faces.

Economic losses due to climate change today amount to more than $125bn a year — more than all the present world aid. The report comes from former UN secretary general Kofi Annan’s thinktank, the Global Humanitarian Forum. By 2030, the report says, climate change could cost $600bn a year.

The full article is here

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund)

Friday, February 20th, 2009

What do they do?
UNICEF - the United Nations Children’s Fund - is the world’s leading agency for children. UNICEF works closely with children, women and communities as well as governments, other UN agencies, faith-based groups, non-government organisations and the private sector to create a better world for every child.

How can I get involved?

Fundraise – Put the ‘fun’ back into fundraising!  Take part in a run, cycle, or swim while raising money for UNICEF.  It’s easy to make your own fundraising web page!

Campaign for Change - Make some noise and help shape better policies and practices for children.  Whether you write to your local MP about an issue affecting children, fill out one of our surveys or sign a petition, you’re helping affect change for a new generation of kids.  Join UNICEF’s Campaigners for Change by emailing for further updates.

Buy an Inspired GiftDoes your Dad need another pair of socks?  Why not help girls in Ghana go to school instead?  Purchase a bicycle for a girl in Ghana from our online shop and help give a better future to children!

- Your donation will go further with UNICEF! For every dollar donated, we can leverage $10 for children who need your help.

Volunteer - There are a number of ways that you can get involved with UNICEF NZ as a volunteer:

  • You can help out in their Wellington office with administration duties
  • You can help them with fundraising events
  • If you think you have some specific skills and experience that will be of value to them then you can apply for an internship

Quaker Peace and Service Aotearoa/New Zealand

Friday, February 20th, 2009


What do they do?
This is the arm of the Quakers (The Religious Society of Friends) in Aotearoa New Zealand that deals with social justice issues. They aim to give service and create peace in Quakerly ways.

How can I get involved?
If you are a young Quaker (aged between approximately 16 and 39) you can join the ‘Young Friends’. Regular meetings are held in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch. At their annual camps, held over Easter, Young Friends have speakers come and talk to the group, where there will tend to be discussion on important issues related to justice and peace. Young Friends also pay to offset their carbon from camps, and aim to shop local and eat vegetarian as a means of reducing damage to the Earth.

The Human Rights Network

Friday, February 20th, 2009


What do they do?
This is a network rather than an organisation and run completely with volunteers. It is for New Zealanders – individuals, non-governmental and other organisations – to share information to pursue national and international progress in human rights

How can I get involved?
Check out the The Human Rights Film festival, a cinematic event celebrating extraordinary people striving for success and achievement amidst the hardest of circumstances and conditions.

Screenings run in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. If you live in one of those places, you can even get involved with organising the local screening. Just flick them an email at:

Join up! - The Human Rights network is free to join and has a lot of information about issues in NZ and abroad. When you join you will get email newsletters that share information on Human Rights focused news and events from a range of sources with an emphasis on local events. You will also be able to post your own events and news onto the site to be included in the e-news (2 weeks notice preferred).

Check out the website - it’s a good place to start for anyone interested in Human Rights and development as it offers a wide range of topics, issues, causes and opinions.

Voices of Youth

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

The UNHCR in partnership with Wellington’s Voice Arts Trust and Access Radio brings you “Voices of Youth” a celebration of identity and diversity.

This programme celebrates International World Refugee Day and was written, produced and performed by a group of Wellington Refugees who, for the first time, are taking their voices, their stories, their struggles, their ideas and their beliefs to the wider community and via the web, to the world.

The programme is a mix of music, poetry, and story telling. Listen, learn and enjoy!

To listen to the podcast click here.

Amnesty International

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008


What do they do?

Amnesty International is a global movement of over 2.2 million people in more than 150 countries who contribute their time, money and expertise to the promotion of human rights and international campaigning against some of the most serious violations, including imprisonment for beliefs or identity, torture and killings.

How can I get involved?

Join a group (or start one) – There are Amnesty International groups in schools, universities, and youth groups. These groups campaign on all aspects of Amnesty’s work. They usually meet weekly or fortnightly to write letters, sign petitions or take action on the Amnesty website on behalf of these individuals and communities at risk.  They also organize awareness raising events within their school and community in support of Amnesty’s work, and take part in the Freedom Challenge, an annual team campaigning challenge in August (see for more details). Young people involved with Amnesty are consistently are rewarded with prolific media coverage for their awareness-raising in schools and the community.

Volunteer – Instead of, or in addition to, being part of a group, you can volunteer around the country, often spending time in the classroom, aiding social studies departments in their education of human rights. You can even spend time volunteering in the Amnesty Auckland office.

Apply for an internship – Amnesty’s Internship Program was established with the aim of enabling students to undertake a period of work experience with Amnesty International. It is an awesome opportunity to get involved in everything Amnesty does, and get some valuable experience. The Auckland office has its own Youth internship position.

Attend an Event – Amnesty groups run events around the country all the time, like games nights and keynote speakers. See the Amnesty website for more details.

Read a Publication – Amnesty produce high quality, up-to-date publications on Human Rights issues around the world. Expand your mind and read one today!

Sign an appeal for Action – The Amnesty website has an up-to-date list of current appeals that you can contribute to.

Why fair trade?

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

By Nicole Mesman

It’s Saturday night and I am sitting in the back of our family’s ute as we make our way home from a friend’s house. I lean against the window staring out, when suddenly our old front stereo roars into life. It’s Dad; he has turned on the radio for what he thinks is the 7 o-clock news. He’s a little early however, they are just on a pre-news interview.

car-radioHi’, she says my name is Molly Crower and you’re listening to a pre-news muse, from the home of radio truth. Tonight we will be interviewing Hayden Spencer, Trade Aid’s spokesperson in New Zealand regarding the upcoming Fair Trade Fortnight. Good evening Hayden.

Hello Molly.’

So Hayden I hear that Fair Trade Fortnight is coming up from the 3rd to the 18th of May?’

It certainly is.’

Perhaps you could give us a bit of background? For starters what is fair trade

My ears prick up. This interview sounds interesting! I tell Dad to turn it up.

Nepal potsWell’ continues Hayden, fair trade is when companies buy goods such as cotton, tea, cocoa and coffee beans, and also craft items such as clothing, baskets, jewellery etc, from producers in places such as Africa, Asia and South America for a fair and consistent price. It also works to protect workers rights by preventing the use of harmful sprays around crops, increasing safe working conditions, and decreasing the numbers of child workers.’

And is it true that through fair trade’ the buyer is also contributing U.S 5cents per pound of coffee to the grower’s community for them to invest at will?

That’s right Molly’.

So now what can you tell us about Fair Trade Fortnight Hayden?

Well, it’s about raising people’s awareness, this year the fortnight focuses on environmental justice which is about us realising that the developing world, who contribute the LEAST to climate change will be the ones who feel it the MOST.’


CinnamonYes, I’m afraid so. The majority of the world live in developing countries yet it is the small percentage of the world’s population that live in developed countries (like us!) that have contributed most to this global problem. What people need to be think about Molly is how unfair is it that developing countries who are already losing out by unfair trade rules, will be expected to foot more than their fair share of the climate change bill. Realising this encourages us to think about how we can reduce our carbon footprint and reminds us how important it is to support fair trade. Throughout the Fortnight there will be loads of activities, competitions and events will be run all over the country. There’s more information at or

That was great Hayden.

No problem Molly.

The interview finished and was replaced by the news, but I heard none of it. There were so many questions buzzing around in my head. How did fair trade start? Was Hayden just presenting one side of the story? Was fair trade really as good as they made it out to be?

tibetan-carpetsMy determination to find out drove me to the internet very early the next morning, where I found a range of information to answer my questions. I discovered that it all started in the late 1940’s after World War II, with some U.S churches selling handicrafts made by refugees in Europe. The idea of fair trade first came to Aotearoa New Zealand when Richard and Vi Cottrell, who had been helping out with the Tibetan refuge resettlement in India in 1969, came back to New Zealand to raise funds for the refugees. They started by selling a $1000 worth of Tibetan carpets in Christchurch and later moved on to develop Trade Aid stores across the country. At Trade Aid all products are made organically, produced on a small scale and shipped to conserve fuel.

I also found out that although most people would agree that fair trade is a good thing, it does have it critics. My research uncovered some individuals who thought supermarkets and companies where abusing the fair trade concept to make greater financial gains on products. One independent survey revealed that products where between 9-16 percent more expensive than others. One site didn’t think fair trade went far enough. It questioned the structures on which fair trade was built, saying that if they did not change significantly, the rich would continue to get richer and the poor remain poor.

After reading all this, my opinion is that fair trade is overall positive thing. Yes, supermarkets and some companies can profit from the products, but you can avoid this by buying from ethical stores such as Trade Aid. It may not be perfect, but anything that improves the working conditions and livelihoods of farmers and their families has got to be a good thing. Right!?

shopping-bags-smlTAKE ACTION - How can YOU support fair trade?


Learn more about environmental justice at
Check out the great cartoons at which explain how unfair the current trade system is.

A version of this article was published in the May 2008 issues of actv8.