21 Dec 2015

First Person with John Campbell: The refugee experience in NZ

From First Person, 3:30 pm on 21 December 2015

With its detention centre, the riots inside it, and the recent death of an asylum seeker - Fazel Chengeni, an Iranian Kurd whose incarceration appeared contrary to any conventional standards of justice or decency - the Australian territory of Christmas Island is a pretty bleak place.    

At least, the detention centre is. 

A fence at a detention centre on Christmas Island

Christmas Island detention centre is a bleak place. Photo: AFP

Away from it, the island is a bustling, small community, it's population made up of Chinese, Malay and white Australians, in that order, who are Buddhist, Christian, Muslim and non-religious, in that order. 

I hadn’t really noticed the easy integration until I saw three phosphate workers ending their shift together - two white men, one Malay woman, all in overalls, the woman wearing a hijab, sauntering off into their afternoons. Such a small thing, but in the context of the larger and less inclusive message of the detention centre, something ordinarily hopeful. 

And then I noticed the halal barbeque. 

A halal barbecue on Christmas Island

Photo: RNZ/John Campbell

It’s funny what sticks in your mind. 

I talk about it in this podcast, but as a simple, civic symbol of welcome and inclusion it was lovely. 

And I became interested in people feeling welcome: what makes people feel welcome and what makes people feel unwelcome? 

So, when I returned to Auckland, I began asking the newest, immigrant New Zealanders whether they felt welcome here. 

This podcast is their answer.

People on Auckland's Queen Street

Is New Zealand a welcoming place? Photo: RNZ/Diego Opatowski

We need to talk about inclusion as much as we need to talk about security. Why? We're living in a world in which Angela Merkel and Donald Trump offer two totally different responses to the issues and human need arising from the devastating crisis in Syria. It's a world in which Islamic State is waging a violent campaign to make the West fearful to the point of xenophobia. It's a world in which, as Michael Ignatieff has just written in the New York Review of Books, “ISIS wants to convince the world of the West’s indifference to the suffering of Muslims; so we should demonstrate the opposite”.

Mangere offers hope to refugee children from some of the world's most troubled places.

The Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre offers hope to children from some of the world's most troubled places. Photo: RNZ / Mohamed Hassan

This podcast is about inclusion - and our collective roles in making that work. 

I recorded it over two weeks in central Auckland, and at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre. 

It was edited by Jeremy Ansell.