Demand for refugee reunification trust growing

The Refugee Family Reunification Trust has had a huge increase in the number of applications for its help.

The Refugee Family Reunification Trust has had a huge increase in the number of applications for its help.

The trust was formed nearly four years ago to financially help refugees in Wellington to bring immediate family members to join them. Reuniting families greatly improves the lives of family members and is seen as critical to successful resettlement.

Last year the trust helped 20 families bring family members to New Zealand. This makes a total of 43 families since the trust’s inception. They have come from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iraq and Sierra Leone. Many of the refugees the trust has helped, had lived in refugee camps in Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan.

Applications to the trust have mainly concerned help with airfares. The cost of a one-way fare from Africa, for example, is around $2,000 per person. A family of six or eight needs $12,000 to $16,000.

‘It is simply impossible for refugees, who often flee their country with nothing, to meet these costs, the trust says in its December 2004 newsletter.

‘And yet for many, it is also impossible to make a new life in New Zealand when they know that their loved ones remain in a perilous situation.’

The trust has also provided interest-free loans to refugees in appropriate cases and these loans are often paid off well within the one-year period.

This shows that the trust plays a valuable role in helping refugees overcome immediate, but sometimes short-term difficulties posed by the costs of reunification.

One of the trust’s patrons, Cardinal Tom Williams, stressed the importance of relationships, particularly with family, which give a sense of identity, security and worth.

‘It is not enough to agree that the right to be with one’s family is among the most fundamental of all human rights. As the costs of bringing family members to New Zealand are very high, refugees need financial help to make family reunification possible.

The trust is a splendid example of “walking the talk” and I am delighted that in the past year the trust has again been able to raise substantial amounts of money. This is the more remarkable since the trust has no paid staff or rented offices! The commitment and energy of its volunteers and the generosity of its donors is a wonderful example of love in action.’

Sacha Green of the Wellington Community Law Centre, highlighted New Zealand’s role as a good international citizen in responding to situations of international humanitarian crisis.

In a recent issue of Council Brief, the Wellington District Law Society’s newspaper, she wrote: ‘one of the ways we do this is through our commitment to accept 750 United Nations-mandated refugees each year for resettlement to New Zealand. This commitment includes efforts to resettle people well.

‘For refugees the journey to New Zealand is invariably an incredibly difficult one. It can involve experiences of torture and trauma and of loss that are scarcely fathomable in a New Zealand context.

It means persecution and fear that necessitates leaving behind one’s home, personal belongings and family members, perhaps even seeing family members and friends killed. Reunification with significant family members is a key issue in a successful resettlement process.

You can support the work of the trust by writing to PO Box 27 342, Wellington, phoning (04) 384 1992, or sending an email to