Ukrainians in NZ 'feeling like they have failed' refugees

1:05 pm on 6 November 2022
Evacuees of Ukraine sit at Krakow station in Krakow, southern Poland on March 6, 2022. Lots of Ukrainians are heading to Poland to escape the war. Russian President Vladimir Putin

Ukraine refugees arriving in Krakow, Poland on March 6, 2022. Photo: AFP

A Ukrainian support group says humanitarian aid in Aotearoa is lacking - so much so that some refugees have returned to their wartorn homeland.

Mahi for Ukraine met with Immigration Minister Michael Wood this week, urging him to expand financial, English language, and health assistance for hundreds of refugees who have arrived here under the 2022 Special Ukraine Visa established in March, and the visa eligibility criteria.

The pathway has allowed the estimated 1600 Ukrainian-born New Zealand citizens and residents in Aotearoa to bring in members of their immediate Ukrainian family to New Zealand, for temporary shelter.

The two-year visas, including work rights (or study rights for children) were designed to bring up to 4000 people into Aotearoa.

But so far only about 1000 visas have been granted and 400 people have arrived.

Mahi for Ukraine co-founder Kate Turska told RNZ she knew of at least three instances where Ukrainian refugees had struggled to settle in Aotearoa, and had returned.

"It is extremely disappointing," she said.

"People here in New Zealand who brought their family, they want more than anything to help their family and be able to help them in a meaningful way. And then they are feeling like they may have failed."

Her parents arrived in Aotearoa through the visa policy, and they too, had found it tough to get enough support, she said.

"They've mentioned it a couple of times that they might [return] ... They feel that pressure of potentially putting this burden on me, and I keep reassuring them that I'll do my best."

She said, being older people, her parents were "quite stressed" around the uncertainty of their future, and found it hard to contribute to their family, in Aotearoa.

"The sheer fact that people are discussing it [going back to Ukraine] or even consider it, that's all very concerning," Turska said.

She said the 2022 Special Ukraine Visas were more like a working visa, than a humanitarian visa, and in her opinion, the pathway did not come with any wraparound support like that seen in Australia.

Mahi for Ukraine co-founder Kate Turska.

Mahi for Ukraine co-founder Kate Turska. File photo. Photo: Supplied

Turska said this needed to change.

"Especially for those who potentially won't be able to find employment, [we need to be] looking at something, at some kind of support through existing frameworks, like access to the community services cards, Jobseeker benefits ... We're even talking about the simple things like public transport. There a number of mechanisms that are already existing."

Turska said health costs, like GP appointments, were also a problem, for people dealing with their traumatic upheaval from Ukraine.

English language support, she said, needed to improve too - and she hoped the government would ensure all refugees were connected with language courses, to help them find temporary jobs.

Turska said the government had signalled the policy would be extended in 2023.

"The minister indicated that they are committed to expanding so we're hoping that the Cabinet will make the right choice there."

She said Mahi for Ukraine members "do appreciate having good constructive dialogue" with government, and were "grateful" for the refugee assistance so far.

"We just feel like it doesn't go far enough."

In a statement, a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Michael Wood said the visa policy "was established on the understanding that sponsors were willing and able to take on the financial responsibility of those they sponsor, including arranging and funding travel to New Zealand, and accommodation and living costs once in New Zealand".

"Other temporary visa holders generally do not have access to funded flights or welfare," the statement said.

The minister's statement said he was aware some Ukrainians had struggled to settle, and returned, and that he had "regular meetings and communications" with Ukrainian support teams here.

"Ultimately though, people need to make decisions based on what is best for them and their families."

Wood's statement said he was "currently considering whether an extension is warranted" for the visa policy, due to end next March.

"At this stage the minister is not expecting any significant changes to the policy settings or entitlements associated with it."

Currently, immediate family who can be sponsored, include parents, grandparents, siblings or adult children (and their partners and dependent children up to the age of 24) who are ordinarily resident in Ukraine.

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