30 Jan 2020

Uighur refugee who fled China left jobless while awaiting NZ residence

10:58 am on 30 January 2020

A Muslim Uighur says immigration processes in New Zealand mean the nightmare for him is still continuing after being accepted as a refugee.

Asylum seeker

The man fears he will not be able to find a job as employers prefer people with work visas that are valid for more than a year. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

The man -who fears his family have been taken to Chinese re-education camps - is waiting for residence, but says that has left him unable to find a job despite his qualifications and experience.

He's applied for jobs in management, finance, and sales and marketing - but he's been turned down by employers who want someone with more than a temporary visa.

An immigration lawyer said delays were retraumatising refugees and asylum seekers and leaving them in limbo.

Adbu - not his real name - said he lost contact with his family in China and then received a concerning video call from his mother.

He could see she was not calling from home and appeared tearful, he said.

"I can feel that face and the sad eyes and it's just like not normal things for me," he said. "She just said, 'We're fine. Just don't contact with me.' This is the last word I heard about from my mum."

Adbu found he was deleted from accounts and apps where he used to contact friends and family.

"It's like you lost everything and you have nothing in the world," he said.

Reports from 2018 suggest between 800,000 and two million Uighur Muslims have been sent to internment camps.

The Chinese government initially denied their existence and later defended them as ways of combating terrorism and providing vocational training.

Adbu said he had been interrogated on returning to China from work overseas, whereas Han Chinese colleagues were not.

"Every time I returned to China, I was detained in the airport by that airport authority and the police because I'm just Uighur and Uighurs are not allowed to be go abroad nowadays.

"So, they just detained me in the police office for five or more than five hours.

"Last time I experienced that, they just laid me naked in the police office and searched me, everything, and it's a really bad experience for me."

The 34-year-old, who was studying in New Zealand when he applied for asylum, waited seven months for his refugee application to be approved - in which time his student visa expired and he became an overstayer.

He is now worried about his wait for residence - as employers want someone with more than the short-term work visa he holds.

"It's really stressful because I already graduated and I applied for a lot of jobs, and most of them they required like your visa should be valid more than one year," he said. "I think, as an employer, it's reasonable because they also train you."

A spokesperson for Immigration New Zealand said there had been no processing delay of any significance in his case as he applied for residence in November and he holds an open work visa valid until October, issued within six weeks of him applying.

An immigration lawyer, Simon Laurent, said there were long delays for people who had been recognised as refugees who are awaiting residence.

"If they have been recognised [as refugees] that is furthermore recognition that these people have suffered," he said. "For them to be held on tenterhooks waiting for residence to be granted is re-traumatising them in my opinion."

He said he was worried changes to requirements for asylum seekers and visas might be a move to deter them from coming here.

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