Life During Capitalism- one history student's perspective on life during capitalism

"To omit or to minimize these voices of resistance is to create the idea that power only rests with those who have the guns, who possess the wealth, who own the newspapers and the television stations. I want to point out that people who seem to have no power, whether working people, people of colour, or women-once they organize and protest and create movements-have a voice no government can suppress." Howard Zinn

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Refugees-We are Everywhere

Where should we go after the last frontiers,
where should the birds fly after the last sky?

Mahmoud Darwish, poet

In 1851 my great-great-grandfather and his family boarded a ship in London and set sail for Christchurch. They were fleeing the dire poverty of industrial Britain for freedom in the new British colony that is now my home. In 1967 my father and his family left their village and walked down a dusty road heading for a refugee camp across the Jordan border. They were fleeing the advancing Israeli army that had threatened to kill my grandfather. They were refugees. They were not the first and they wont be the last people to be displaced, to find themselves on the margins of history, unable to return home.

Today there are officially 19.2 million refugees in the world. That’s about five times the population of Aotearoa. Our country has long been seen as a refuge for those who flee war, poverty and persecution in their own countries. In recent times we have had some headline grabbing encounters with the refugee problem like when Algerian asylum seeker Ahmed Zaoui arrived at Auckland airport in 2004 fleeing political persecution and was promptly labeled a “threat to national security”. Just last month a Burmese community leader called Mang Za Khup was very nearly deported back to Burma, where he would have almost certainly been jailed by the Burmese military regime. Both of these men are still in Aotearoa, thanks to the efforts of NGOs and the general public, who put pressure on the government to allow them to stay.

In 2001, New Zealand accepted hundreds of Afghani refugees who had been stranded off the coast of Australia, after the boat they were traveling in started to sink off the Australian coast. They were resettled in New Zealand by the volunteer organisation RMS Refugee Resettlement. A friend of mine in Wellington has been volunteering her time to help an Afghani family settle down into life in New Zealand. Jen spends time with them doing everything from shopping and pay bills to taking them to the hospital and helping them learn English. She told me that, “The family I work with are awesome and I really enjoy working with them, although I find it hard when the mother asks me why social welfare does not give her enough money to cover the costs of feeding and housing her four children.”

Refugees are everywhere, in every country and often coming to live in our neighborhoods and communities. They need support and understanding, they need people to give them a chance to live happily in their own country. On June 20, World Refugee Day, you can help support refugees by volunteering your time or money to RMS or spread the message around our schools and communities, that refugees are human beings who like us deserve respect and dignity and like us deserve a home.

Published in the Ministry of Youth Development's Provoke Newsletter No.2 May 2006



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