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20 June is World Refugee Day

June 12th, 2020 By Janice Rodrigues

But what do Albert Einstein and Freddy Mercury have to do with it?

They were both refugees forced to flee their countries and seek refuge in another country.

This blog post has a wide range of resources and questions to inspire classroom discussion about refugees in New Zealand and worldwide.

Children's hands overlapping on a world map
Image by Capri23auto. Pixabay. License to use.

World Refugee Day

The latest United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) global trends report shows that 70.8 million people worldwide were displaced by war, conflict, and persecution in 2018. What's shocking is that children make up half this number!

On 4 December 2000, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution to mark World Refugee Day on 20 June each year.

This day would be used to:

  • raise awareness of the plight of refugees seeking refuge around the world
  • show that the global public will continue its support of refugees
  • send a message to governments to work together to do their fair share to support refugees in their country, and
  • commemorate the strength, courage, and perseverance of refugees.

The theme for 2020 is 'Every Action Counts', which aims to remind people that everyone, including refugees, can make a difference in our society. This year especially shines a light on refugees, supported by host countries and aid workers, who are on the front line fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

I urge you to celebrate the extraordinary courage and contributions of refugees past and present.
— Kofi Annan (former Secretary-General of the United Nations)

New Zealand on receiving refugees

New Zealand has been receiving refugees since the 1840s and commits to protect refugees under the:

  • 1951 United Nations Convention
  • 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees
  • 1984 Convention Against Torture, and the
  • 1966 Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

People from Denmark were the first seeking safety from German suppression in the 1870s. Since then, refugees have arrived from Poland, Uganda, Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Somalia, and the Middle East.

The Refugee Quota Programme — when did it begin and where are we now?

  • In 1987, New Zealand formalised their response to receiving refugees by accepting 800 people classified as refugees by the UNHCR.
  • In 2018, New Zealand’s annual refugee quota went up to 1000.
  • From July 2020, New Zealand will increase the number of refugees who can settle here to 1500.

You can read more about New Zealand’s Refugee Quota Programme from New Zealand Immigration.

Refugee resettlement in New Zealand

United Nations, Amnesty International and Red Cross are some of the world organisations that help refugees with resettlement in New Zealand.

And then there are some government and not-for-profit organisations that have their own specialised ways of helping refugees set up life and living in New Zealand:

  • New Zealand Immigration has a Refugee and Protection Unit that works with government and international agencies to help with resettlement.
  • Office of Ethnic Communities has a Refugee Family Reunification Trust that helps refugees with application, travel, medical, or other costs that may be incurred while setting up life in New Zealand.
  • Refugee Council of New Zealand provides advice, support, information, and assistance to asylum-seekers and refugees.
  • RASNZ (Refugees as Survivors New Zealand) assist refugees with access to quality, culturally-sensitive mental health and wellbeing services to help their resettlement in New Zealand.

Resources for World Refugee Day

Carefully curated from international, national, and government websites, these topic sets and entries will help you explore the many dimensions and stories of refugees in New Zealand and globally.

Topic Explorer

Refugees — disasters, climate change, and war force people to flee and resettle in other countries. Explore refugee survival stories and the resettlement programmes of the United Nations and the New Zealand Red Cross for these displaced people.

Immigration to Aotearoa/New Zealand — this topic is about migrants, refugees, journeys, transport, and what has made New Zealand a popular migrant nation.

Any Questions

Refugees (New Zealand) — these are people who have been forced to leave their homeland because of war or persecution. New Zealand has a strong history of accepting refugees, and this has continued as the number of trouble spots around the world has increased.

Refugees (worldwide) — refugees have been escaping war, famine, and persecution because of race or religion for centuries all around the world. The Syrian refugee crisis is a recent example of people escaping civil war.

Immigration (New Zealand) — Aotearoa New Zealand has long been a country people have chosen to immigrate to. This entry looks at historical immigration to New Zealand as well as the reasons people are choosing to move here today.

Get your class to think, respond, and problem solve

Use these statistics, facts, workshops, and activities from reputable non-profit organisations to help students understand the situations faced by refugees when they flee their countries and when they arrive in host nations.

Refugee Week — has activities, book lists, and educational videos about refugees for children and young adults to celebrate Refugee Week in the UK. Their theme this year, 'Imagine', encourages people to visualise and discover new ways of resolving situations affecting people and their environment.

Teaching about refugees — this UNHCR teachers' toolkit helps teach students of all ages about the complexities of forced displacement of people. It also includes professional guidance for primary and secondary school teachers on how to include refugee children in their classrooms.

Migration and refugees lesson plans — analyse a film or an article about how a community supported a refugee family, or consider how people should respond to refugees. These are some of the lessons from Pulitzer Centre that partners with journalists and newsrooms to educate the public, promote solutions, and improve lives.

Refugees, multiculturalism, and the curriculum

People from various countries have entered New Zealand at different times either as migrants or refugees, making New Zealand a land of immigrants.

The principle of cultural diversity in 'The New Zealand Curriculum' encourages schools to ensure that their practices include valuing the cultural diversity of all individual students.

Questions for discussion

Here are some questions to stimulate a discussion about refugees in New Zealand.

Cambodian refugees in the library learning about life in NZ
Cambodian refugees, 1992 by Sivleang Ung. Ref: COMM1482197055 Palmerston North City Library. CC BY 4.0.

In the 1970s, Cambodia was taken over by the Khmer Rouge. As a result, many Cambodian refugees arrived in New Zealand.

  • How does New Zealand’s Refugee Quota Programme compare to the rest of the world?
  • Does New Zealand have an unbiased Refugee Quota Programme?
  • How is a refugee or an asylum seeker different from a migrant?
  • How many cultures are represented in your class? When did they arrive here, and why did they choose New Zealand to be their home?
  • What kind of programme would you like your school to have to welcome children from other countries?

Multiculturalism — this curiosity card with its rich fertile questions and the multiculturalism set from DigitalNZ are great resources to explore ethnic diversity with your class.

Further reading

  • Find out more about fertile questions, their characteristics, examples, and use in the classroom.
  • Read our earlier blog post Refugees, stories and empathy that explores the plight of displaced people worldwide through books and stories.

This blog post

This post was originally published on 17 June 2019 and has been updated and republished with new information and resources.

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