At 19, Aucklander Millad Rashidi is about to take on yet another business venture that he hopes will help new migrants and locals alike.
It’s at least the third business started by Rashidi — some successfully, others not so much — since he came to New Zealand as a refugee in 2015. His family fled from the Taliban in Afghanistan when he was 10 and ended up in Pakistan.
A t-shirt business and a children’s book later, this time, Rashidi is eyeing a takeaway fried chicken franchise.
“When we had to leave Afghanistan, we had to leave everything behind. Mum and dad sacrificed everything they had for my brother and I and our future and our security,” he told 1 NEWS.
“What I'm doing at the moment is making sure the effort my mum and dad have put in is not going to waste.”
Since Covid-19 closed many international borders last year, however, more than 1000 refugees who would have otherwise made it to New Zealand haven’t. The New Zealand Red Cross estimates half of the group are children, and they’re stuck in limbo awaiting confirmation from authorities about when they can resettle.
Yesterday, the Government announced it would be allocating 100 spots in managed isolation and quarantine every six weeks to refugees. This would begin in July until at least March next year.
Even with the allocation, though, the Government acknowledged New Zealand wouldn’t come close to its increased refugee quota of 1500 people a year because of the ongoing effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
About 210 people are expected to arrive by the end of June, the end of the year-long quota period. Of that, Immigration New Zealand said 177 refugees since July of last year have arrived in New Zealand.
Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said the Government was still “committed” to meeting the quota, and was “working with the UNHCR [the UN Refugee Agency] to try and get things back to normal”.
In the next year, he estimated about 750 to 1000 refugees could come to New Zealand in the “best-case scenario”.
There were, however, logistical issues with people's travel, Faafoi added.
“It really depends on what we can do with the UNHCR."
Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins said the 100-space allocation wasn’t necessarily a cap, and would act more as a guarantee someone would have a space in MIQ. He said people could still book MIQ vouchers.
Nonetheless, Rashidi said he was happy to hear yesterday’s news. He said it was “amazing” to see New Zealand had resumed its refugee programme in October last year after the border closed in March.
“It was difficult for everyone around the world, especially for refugees. I think about people like myself, when I was in Pakistan, waiting for the response from foreign governments to accept our applications to welcome them in the country,” he said.
Rashidi’s family waited for three years in Pakistan before being resettled in Auckland. For those three years, he found himself having to work to support his family instead of going to school.
But he considered himself lucky having known families in Pakistan who had waited for more than 10 years for any certainty.
“When you’re in that type of situation, it’s uncertain. You don’t know if you’re safe in a different country, but you can’t go back to your home.
“You’re away from your education. All the time, your ears and your eyes are on the phone, expecting a call from the UNHCR.
“I couldn’t imagine for the time that these people will be waiting, with the pandemic going on. It would be extremely difficult and it would certainly affect your health and mental health as well,” Rashidi said.
'A first step' back to 1500
Golriz Ghahraman, the Green Party’s spokesperson for refugees, said she welcomed the Government’s move yesterday “as a first step”.
“These are whānau who have already fled war, torture, and persecution only to be stranded in deadly circumstances in the pandemic,” Ghahraman said.
“The refugee crisis hasn’t stopped, and has in fact accelerated due to Covid-19, with terrifying impacts for those stranded in refugee camps with little access to health care or sanitation.”
She called on the Government to urgently reinstate New Zealand’s full refugee quota.
“This need not place further pressures on MIQ, as the refugee centre in Māngere is able to take care of refugees and will need only limited adjustments to function as an MIQ facility.”
However, an Immigration New Zealand assessment said last year repurposing the Refugee Resettlement Centre would not be “efficient”.
Rachel O’Connor, the general manager of migration at the New Zealand Red Cross, said yesterday’s announcement was “definitely a positive step forward”.
“The refugee quota is really about saving lives. So, the announcement it was starting again with larger numbers is incredibly positive,” she told 1 NEWS.
She said the allocation for 100 spaces in MIQ, and the Government saying it expected to fall short of its 1500 quota, was a “realistic stance” given the pandemic and having to prioritise Kiwis returning home.
“We’re very keen to see the Government rebuild closer to that 1500. We're hopeful that if they can progress to 100 people every six weeks, then, actually, 1500 should be doable next year,” O’Connor said.
“When we went into lockdown, there were hundreds of people who were expecting to come to New Zealand. Of course, that was delayed.
“So, people really have been in limbo, and they’re in limbo in difficult situations. Some of them are trying to survive in conflict zones and refugee camps … it’s essential we get people out as quickly as possible.”
Yesterday’s announcement also allocated space for RSE workers, international students and skilled construction workers.
While people who could help with New Zealand’s economic recovery should be allowed in, the country shouldn’t forget its humanitarian obligations, O’Connor said.
Refugees could also help with New Zealand’s economic recovery, she added.
“People whose lives have been, essentially, saved by New Zealand, they give back over and over and over.”
In the meantime, Rashidi is busy preparing for the opening of his Wicked Chicken franchise in the Hamilton suburb of Te Rapa.
“At least there's progress again. But, in the long-term, if the Government pushed up the numbers and brought in more refugees, that's really going to help to boost the economy,” he said.
“I’m an example — I’m opening up businesses and providing job opportunities. I want to support the locals in New Zealand for giving me the opportunity to come here. Even if I was working somewhere else, I would be contributing.
“Every single one of these kids that come in, they come in with a lot of potential and they could be doing a lot for New Zealand.”