ASEP Presents: Gayaal Iddamalgoda

On Thursday the 30th May, all of us here at the Community Justice Project and Asylum Seekers Equality Project had the honour of hosting Gayaal Iddamalgoda to hear his thoughts regarding our current Refugee Policy and the criminalisation of immigration.

Gayaal Iddamalgoda was born in Sri Lanka, in a time where Sinhalese violence and suppression cost hundreds of lives and displaced hundreds of Tamil people. His family migrated firstly to Australia, and then later Dunedin where he grew up. After his graduation he moved to Melbourne and became involved in refugee activism. This was something that shocked Iddamalgoda as he saw “detention centres, surrounded by barbed wire fences and where people were subject to daily physical, emotional and physical abuse just for claiming a basic human right”. It was these circumstances that opened his eyes to the need for refugee policy reform in both Australia and New Zealand.

Iddamalgoda outlined that there is a family-link issue in New Zealand’s refugee policy: African and Middle Eastern refugees are excluded from the quota unless they have an existing family member in New Zealand. While working for First Union New Zealand as an employment lawyer, and the knowledge and experience he acquired in Australia and New Zealand, Iddamalgoda decided to run for Parliament in the Wellington Central seat. In his campaign, he learned that the problem highlights increased disparity but  tends to be ignored and brushed off by politicians. This is evidenced by Iddamalgoda challenging the National candidate running for Rimutaka, who out-rightly denied that the problem existed. Iddamalgoda believes that this is both astonishing, and a clear instance of discrimination, which has been confirmed by the current Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway. Despite the clear discrimination in our immigration system, Lees-Galloway has not introduced any policy reform regarding this issue. This means that Immigration New Zealand still retains discretion to set a difference of criteria that migrant and asylum seekers have to meet, and the difference in rights for asylum seeker claimants.

This criteria is based on many different factors, as outlined by Gayaal Iddamalgoda. According to him, our current policy is “pegging differential treatment on security concerns”. It is based on assumptions of race, culture and ethnicity, as well as where the asylum seekers come from. This issue is prevalent, especially as it portrays the idea that New Zealand has an aversion to particular people coming to our country, simply because they seek asylum with a visa. The more you are suspected to be an asylum seeker, the more likely your visa will be declined. As stated by Iddamalgoda, this shows the direct “racialisation of New Zealand policy”.

This policy was reviewed and renewed during the height of the Syrian Refugee crisis. This is because the National party argued they wanted New Zealand’s policies to be reflect being “good neighbours”. Yet, there are many instances why this is also not quite true.

The Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme employs workers from the Pacific. This is ostensibly about the “neighbourhood” aspect which New Zealand claims to be basis of our refugee and asylum seeker policy. But under the scheme, the workers’ status is entirely connected to the employer, as they are dependent on them for food and shelter. Workers also cannot reside or leave here without their employer’s permission. Iddamalgoda told us about a case where a worker from Vanuatu was banned from seeing their son by their employer. This demonstrates how New Zealand’s policies can differentiate rights between immigrants and asylum seekers, suggesting that perhaps we are not so focussed on helping our neighbours as we thought.

For more information on groups and services trying to give these people the rights they legally deserve, and also give them a voice in our community, follow our facebook page. We would like to thank Iddamalgoda for his time, perspective and the mahi that he continues to do for the community.

Hear Our Voices, We Entreat

On behalf of the Wellington Community Justice Project, we are pleased to invite you to participate in our refugee resettlement policy development evening – ‘Hear Our Voices, We Entreat.’

Aotearoa’s current support for asylum seekers and convention refugees is far from satisfactory. However, change is on the horizon. This event is a unique opportunity to hear a diverse range of perspectives on current refugee policy. We will learn about the impacts of our policies on asylum seekers first hand, examine the development of New Zealand’s attitude towards asylum seekers through history, explore a te āo māori approach to refugee policy and re-imagine our approach to the asylum claims process with these perspectives at its heart.

Look forward to musical entertainment, delicious refreshments from Pomegranate Kitchen and a video presentation created by the Asylum Seekers Equality Project.

Registration Page

Facebook Event Page



Since World Vision launched their #KidsOffNauru campaign in mid-August, the deplorable conditions in which the 119 children on Nauru Island are living in have come to light. The refugees and asylum seekers are faced with substandard conditions where they lack access to adequate healthcare, education and protection from physical and sexual abuse. Many have witnessed or been subject to abuse or harm, hundreds of such incidents were reported by the Guardian Australia in 2016.

Refugee children protesting on Nauru

Australia’s offshore policy is designed to deter people from embarking on dangerous sea voyages in the hopes of claiming asylum. In 2013 the Australian government introduced a policy that any asylum seeker arriving to Australia by boat would be sent to Nauru or Manus Island for processing. If granted refugee status, they would be able to settle in any other country than Australia. These policies have received sustained heavy criticism for their violations of human rights.

The Australian government said in a statement that “children of refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru have access to education, health services, welfare, good accommodation and a range of social services provided by the Nauru and Australian governments. Nauruan children grow up happy and healthy on our island. Activists [are] playing politics and distorting facts.”  However, the reality on the ground in Nauru starkly contrasts the picture painted by the Australian government.

Since the children arrived to Nauru, they have remained neglected and have faced substandard living conditions, education and health-care services. The children of Nauru have been forced to live an alien and hostile environment. Some children have been born on the island and have never known anything other than fences and guards. Some have had to endure the conditions on Nauru for almost five years.

The situation in Nauru has reached crisis level, and the children’s plight is only worsening.

Refusing food for more than two weeks, a 12-year-old child held on Nauru has been on a hunger-strike. Just recently, amid mounting concerns around his health, he has been flown to Australia for treatment.

A girl suffering “resignation syndrome”, where one withdraws from life around them by refusing food and water, has been ordered off the island by an Australian court. She is the latest to join a string of critically ill children who have been removed from Nauru for urgent medical care. A 14-year-old boy suffering from major depressive disorder and severe muscle wastage was flown directly to Brisbane. Doctors are concerned he may never be able to walk normally again.

Two-year-old Roze was born on Nauru: her family has been waiting for their new home for five long years.

Reports have also indicated that last week, a 12-year-old girl was taken to Nauru hospital after reportedly attempting to set herself on fire. The girl has made repeated attempts to end her life in recent weeks, with the most recent attempt being witnessed by several other children. A psychiatrist on the island has recommended she be moved to Australia immediately. Since Thursday 23rd August, three children have left the island, with reports coming in of several more children, some as young as 12, in similar critical conditions. Self-harm and suicide attempts, including by self-immolation, are growing routinely common on the island, among both adults and children.

The medical staff on the island is overwhelmed by the current crisis. Their referrals for children needing urgent transfer from the island for medical care, have continuously been rebuffed by Australian Border Force officials present on the island. Since December 2017, at least 14 legal challenges have been brought before the federal court seeking immediate orders that children be moved from Nauru to Australia, where they can access the higher-level care they so desperately need.

Tired of being pushed aside and forgotten, refugees on Nauru hold a protest.

As part of a deal with Australia, the previous US administration offered to welcome refugees from both Nauru and Manus Island. However the process has been slow.  Difficulties have also arisen as the new US administration introduced new restrictions about which nationalities it will accept as refugees. The reality is that many of the children and their families on Nauru have no hope for resettlement in the US due to these new restrictions.

World Vision’s campaign aims to have the Nauru children and their families to be brought to safety and resettled in New Zealand before Universal Children’s Day on 20th of November.

Join us, make your voice heard, and help get the #KidsOffNauru.


ASEP Investigates: The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment

ASEP Investigates: The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment

– A Campaign milestone update
Recently our Government team sat down with Suzanne Malan, a principal advisor at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), to ask how they are actively fulfilling the promises they made in their Refugee Resettlement Plan.

The overarching vision for the strategy is simple: to get refugees socially and economically integrated fully into New Zealand society “…so that they are living independently, undertaking the same responsibilities and exercising the same rights as other New Zealanders and have a strong sense of belonging to their own community and to New Zealand.” (Immigration New Zealand)

While this is a fantastic step towards improving the refugee resettlement experience, several aspects of its implementation remain vague and require continued monitoring to ensure that improvements occur.

With this in mind, ASEP’s inquiry concluded with some unresolved questions. Notably, some answers were ambiguous and were rounded off with an admission of needing to “double check”.

The Good News The Bad News
Due to the scarcity of interpreters, MBIE are looking to expand their interpreter services across the board This will not be immediate and there is a lack of information around the scope of this
Every current and future Asylum Seeker whose claim has been successful will be referred to a contact person/navigator to
assess service needs – MBIE plans to test the role and evaluate it in January
This is specific to post-acceptance. It is unclear as to whether or not this was on-going service, it seemed to be more of
a one-off consultation. Unclear as to whether this would be limited to Auckland
According to MBIE there is no actual distinction between convention and quota refugees: it is a practical issue and service
providers are not aware
This is inconsistent with the statement of Andrew Lockhart at the Asylum Forum 2018 – Cabinet decided to distinguish Quota
and Convention refugees in the resettlement programme
MBIE admitted that 3-month work visas were not feasible and were looking to extend to 12 months Timeframe of implementation remains unclear
Funding will not be increased to Pathways to Employment and NGO’s.

MBIE unfortunately also dodged some of ASEP’s harder hitting questions regarding mental health services for refugees. Although there are complexities around addressing the specialised services required for refugee trauma, the lack of services was justified by stating that it is generally difficult to access mental health services in New Zealand. This was an unacceptable answer to the ASEP team, who pushed the point that these services were unrelated to the general community’s concerns with mental health services, which was acknowledged. Regardless, no promises were made.

Housing was another issue that was brought up during the meeting and it was concluded that the people most likely to get help were those who are worst off or homeless. Again, no strategies or timeframes were mentioned.

Overall, MBIE’s approach to the Resettlement Strategy is a step in the right direction. However, has also shed light on some troubling gaps concerning information on services pre-acceptance, mental health, and housing, which ASEP will continue to fight for.

Refugees United

Refugees United

Why the 2018 FIFA Football World Cup belonged to Immigrant and Refugee players.
In the midst of emergent global nationalism and xenophobia, ironically the makeup of some of Europe’s beloved football teams is increasingly multi ethnic.
Football has always been an avenue for transcending divisions like race, language, age and gender. Fittingly, there is no better time than the present to recognize the increasing contribution of migrant and refugee players. Such recognition tentatively promises the potential to quash some of the ill-informed cries of aggression towards refugees, immigrants and Muslims
– at least from the mouths of football fans.
If such players weren’t allowed to compete, the world cup final would have looked, well, different.



The Croatian team, often hailed as the “New Zealand of football”, with its small population and proportional talent, owes its success to more than one former-refugee player. Its captain, Luka Modric, grew up during the Croatian War of Independence and spent his childhood living as a refugee. Dejan Lovren is another Croatian whose family fled to escape war as a child, spending years living as refugees in Germany. He described his family’s desperate escape from a bomb shelter in the documentary My Life as a Refugee and urged rejecters of refugees to reconsider.

Victor Moses lost both parents as a child due to religious conflict in Nigeria and was sent to England by extended family as an Asylum Seeker.
Xherdan Shaqiri was born in Yugoslavia. His family immigrated to Switzerland after his Uncle’s house was burned down and family home ransacked in the Kosovo war.
When ethnic violence in Valon Berhami’s village in Yugoslavia increased, his family decided to move to Switzerland while his uncle and cousin lost their lives in the war back home.

Food for Thought

Food for Thought

ASEP chatted with Vic student Bryony Harrison about why she has decided to embark on the Ration Challenge by eating the same food rations as a Syrian refugee for one week. Check out her inspiring answers as to what she’s doing to show that she’s with refugees, not against them.

Check out her fundraiser!


Why did you decide to do the ration challenge?

I have decided to do the ration challenge in order to gain a better understanding of what struggles refugees face and the reality of how little access they have to basic human necessities (such as food) they have displaced.

Eating like a refugee for a week will I’m sure be tough because of the normal food intake I’m used to, but this just seemed like all the more reason to do it, in order to understand how refugees need our support from around the world to improve these conditions.

It also just seems like a small sacrifice to make when it could potentially make a real difference in the lives of those living in refugee camps in Jordan. These camps are full of families who have had to flee Syria to escape the violence and killings, and the fact that I could possibly help buy raising money to provide food, education and medical care is my main motivator to complete the ration challenge.


What do you think is the biggest issue facing refugees in NZ?

From what I know of refugee resettlement in NZ, what seems to be a key issue is the lack of mental health education provided, as well as a follow on problem of refugees not seeking mental health support when required.
Refugee services in NZ have found that many refugees, having experienced trauma and violence in their lives, suffer from mental health issues. However it has also been seen that they do not reach out for help from professionals or their families out of shame and stigma – or if they do it is often many years after their arrival here. I feel like this is a huge issue, as even though refugees may feel safe in NZ, and be grateful to be away from where they have fled from, the fact that they are still suffering without help is an indication of a failing of our settlement procedure. This could be addressed hopefully in the near future with more extensive education given about mental health, and an emphasis on destigmatising these problems and offering support repeatedly so they know they are not alone in this struggle.