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New Zealanders Mark 50 years of Refugee Assistance

UNHCR 50th Anniversary – 14 December, 2000

The 50th anniversary of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the world’s leading refugee organisation is no reason to celebrate, but nevertheless an opportunity for New Zealanders to feel proud, says the New Zealand UNHCR spokesperson.

Minister of Immigration, Hon Lianne Dalziel, is hosting a commemorative function to mark the UNHCR anniversary at the Beehive on Thursday, 14 December at 10.00am. As part of the ceremony, the Minister will present a copy UNHCR’s official 50th anniversary book to five former refugees. Each former refugee represents a particular decade since UNHCR was established, and each has made a positive contribution to the New Zealand society (short biographies follow).

The New Zealand event is the first of the worldwide activities on December 14. The book, The State of the World’s Refugees, examines the major refugee crises of the last 50 years and the changing nature of international responses to the problem of forced displacement.

“New Zealand has been an important player in refugee resettlement for fifty years now”, says Hans ten Feld, UNHCR Senior Liaison Officer for New Zealand.

UNHCR was established in December 1950 to resettle some one million refugees after the Second World War. Since then New Zealand has been a key contributor to the international settlement of refugees.

New Zealand is one of only nine countries throughout the world that help UNHCR by taking refugees on a regular basis.

“The people who have come here as refugees are an integral part of New Zealand’s history now, and contribute to the diversity of New Zealand society.
UNHCR is responsible for 22.3 million refugees and other persons of concern, as opposed to some one million when the organisation was established.

“UNHCR was not expected to be a long standing organisation. The fact that fifty years later there is still a need for an organisation that assists refugees is a sad reflection on the world of today.

“The aim of the anniversary is not to focus on the longevity of the institution, but to celebrate refugees and their accomplishments.

“Refugees may arrive in New Zealand with few possessions, for example, but they have a wealth of skills and experience to offer.

“Many former refugees go on to make significant contributions to New Zealand.

UNHCR and non-government agencies involved in refugee resettlement in New Zealand have joined to cooperate under the umbrella of PARinAC (Partners in Action).

“The cooperation between UNHCR, the non-governmental organisations and the Government has been a powerful force in the progress that has been made with initial delivery and ongoing resettlement services.

The book is published by Oxford University Press and will be available in selected bookshops in February 2001 or from the publisher, for $54.95.

ENDS.

To arrange an interview with Hans ten Feld, UNHCR spokesperson (who has been with UNHCR for nearly 20 years, serving Zambia, Cambodia, India, Germany, Myanmar before coming to New Zealand), Judi Altinkaya, PARinAC spokesperson or one or more of the five former refugees who will visit the Minister, please contact:

Sally Frewin
Ph: 09 979 2007
Mob: 025 919 818
Email: sfrewin@ppr.com.au

The Ministerial contact is:
Juli Clausen
Ph: (04) 473 9099.
FIVE FORMER REFUGEES EACH REPRESENTING A DECADE
OF UNHCR’S EXISTENECE


1950s Mike Szarbo - Hungary
Former Hungarian refugee, Miklós (Mike) Szarbó came to New Zealand in 1957 after the Hungarian uprising against Soviet oppression occurred. Mike has had a very successful life in New Zealand, including a 38 year career working in local government, completing a civil engineering degree at Canterbury University and more recently being appointed Honorary Consul for the republic of Hungary.

1960s Jana Babor - Czechslovakia
Czechoslovakians, Jana Babor and her husband came to New Zealand to following the suppression of the so-called Prague Spring in 1968. The couple, both mechanical engineers by training, settled in Upper Hutt and have two sons. Jana was pregnant with their first son when they left their home country.

1970s Chong du Cheng - Vietnam
Chong du Cheng fled Vietnam on board a fishing boat, together with his pregnant wife. They managed to reach Thailand where they stayed for 10 months in a refugee camp. They were then resettled to New Zealand in 1977, as part of the first Vietnamese “boat people” to be resettled here. Unable to speak much English, Chong du Cheng started his working career in New Zealand sweeping factory floors. He is now director of a holding company that has close to $100 million under investment.

1980s Christina Pithyou - Iraqi
Christina Pithyou was only six years old when her family fled from northern Iraq to Iran in 1986 during the Iran-Iraq war. Her family were escaping the persecution and discrimination by the Iraqi government against Assyrian Christians, exacerbated by the overall effects of the war. Christina spent three years of her childhood in refugee camps in Iran before coming to New Zealand.

1990s Alexis Manirakiza – Burundi

Alexis Manirakiza had been working in Burundi as a school teacher in Kayanza, West Burundi but fled the area after he was placed on a death list. While in the Channel Islands attending a training programme the discovered he was unable to return home to Burundi since the borders were closed. He flew to New Zealand, where a friend lived, and applied for asylum upon arrival. Over the last four years he has worked at the Wellington Zoo as the primate keeper.

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