Refugees struggle to reunite with family

  • 05/09/2015
Refugees struggle to reunite with family

By Kim Vinnell

A reason often given for not increasing the refugee quota is that extra people are allowed in as part of the Family Reunification programme.

But refugee resettlement groups say the number of people who qualify is miniscule and more than 1000 people are currently on the waitlist.

When Anna and her daughter arrived in New Zealand, they bought a new photo album to fill with new memories. But resettling is hard with a broken heart.

"In New Zealand no one is threatening me or chasing me," says Colombian refugee Anna Garro. "I can be free. I have food, my daughter has shelter. But I can't be happy because my son is still there. He is not free. He is in constant danger."

Ms Garro's son was a forced conscript in Colombia's FARC rebel army. He escaped, so in 2010 they kidnapped her in an attempt to lure him back. She was held hostage for three months.

"I suffered. I was physically and mentally tortured – the sorts of things that you cannot imagine."

She was released and, for her safety, was put on a plane to Auckland.

Her son is now too old to get a dependent visa and doesn't qualify for migrant status.

Ms Garro's story is extreme but all too familiar for those who work in the resettlement sector.

"It isn't that easy for quota refugees to bring their family here," says English Language Partners Waikato manger Jo de Lisle. "We have a lot of people who suffer from emotional trauma because they don't know what's happening to them."

There are 300 places available every year under the Family Reunification quota. The demand is much higher.

Since 2007 more than 10,000 people who have family living here in New Zealand have applied for visas so they can be reunited. In that time less than 10 percent of them have been accepted.

There are more than 1000 people on the Tier 2 reunification waitlist. That's usually people trying to bring extended family here.

It's been more than two years since anyone on that list was processed, making it a long shot for people like Ms Garro who don't quite fit with the rules.

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