Archdeacon Stephen King and the Diocesan Refugee Resettlement Co-ordinator, Patricia Cooper, presented to Synod an update on our work with the New Zealand Red Cross, but acknowledged the frustration of not being able to get to know the people we help. So they invited Jabeth Alaya, a former refugee from Colombia, who spoke of her family’s experience.
Stephen reminded us of how this work began – on the 5th of September 2015, the Syrian humanitarian crisis prompted an urgent email to parishes from Bishop Justin requesting action. By the 7th, Archbishop Philip Richardson and the Catholic Archbishop of Wellington, Cardinal John Dew, had released a joint statement saying that the Anglican and Catholic Churches stood ready to assist, even if the Government was unable. “Knowing nothing, we committed to help,” Stephen told Synod members. “In partnership with the Catholic Archdiocese of Wellington and the New Zealand Red Cross, we pioneered a process that is found nowhere else in New Zealand. Thank you! There is not a mission unit that will not have contributed in some way.
Patricia told us that from our diocese, we had contributed 106 household lots in three years. “Well done you!” she exclaimed. Together with the Catholic Church, we have provided household items and set up homes for 697 people coming into Wellington. In 2016, we publically advocated for the doubling of the quota from 750 to 1,500. The then-Government raised it to 1,000, and the current Government has just announced it will rise to 1,500 in 2020. We can justifiably celebrate our role in that advocacy work, said Bishop Justin in his Bishop’s Charge.
As our work has continued, it has become frustrating for volunteers to do this work without being able to personally welcome our new neighbours. Stephen told Synod that the diocese is pursuing new partnerships with organisations like ChangeMakers Refugee Forum, which advocates for a number of former refugee communities, and as a way of hearing at least one refugee story, Stephen and Patricia introduced us to Jabeth Alaya, a year 13 student at Tawa College who came to New Zealand as a refugee from Colombia.
Jabeth told us of waking up one morning to find her grandmother’s tortured body outside her house, and how to this day, her family do not know whether their grandfather is alive or dead. After a long time in Ecuador and many attempts to be accepted as refugees, her family came to New Zealand but because her older sister had since married an Ecuadorian, it was a few more years before they could be fully reunited.
She told us of how growing up, she had never had a bedroom – they had always slept on mattresses on the floor, and to be welcomed into a home with their own beds and their own rooms was a miracle. When her sister and brother-in-law were able to rejoin them in New Zealand, their joy was complete. Finally, she said, we could eat properly – “we couldn’t think about eating properly here, when we knew they were starving over there.”
Jabeth was ecstatically grateful for all the work our diocese does to help those arriving in New Zealand a refugees. Long may our assistance continue, and our relationships with organisations like the Red Cross and ChangeMakers develop.