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New Digital Inclusion Initiative Supports Refugees Entering Aotearoa

A group of not-for-profit organisations today – ahead of World Refugee Day on Sunday – announced an initiative to support to new refugees arriving in Aotearoa.

‘Awhi Matihiko: Red Cross Digital Settlement Package’ is a collaboration between the Spark Foundation, New Zealand Red Cross, Internet NZ and Digital Inclusion Alliance Aotearoa. The key purpose of the initiative is to empower newly arrived former refugees with digital access, supporting them to prosper as they build their new lives in Aotearoa.

The package, which is initially being run as a three-month trial, includes Spark’s not-for-profit broadband product – Skinny Jump – with data paid for 12 months (or a fixed line connection if Jump is not available at their address), a Chromebook (laptop), and if required, digital skills training.

Rachel O’Connor, General Manager Migration at New Zealand Red Cross, says she hopes that the fund will make integrating into New Zealand a bit easier for former refugees.

“People who have been forced to flee their home country due to war or conflict often arrive on our shores with physically very little and yet they come with a lot of passion, skills and determination. This project is about providing them with the resources to use those skills to help them rebuild their lives and to contribute to the New Zealand community,” says O’Connor.

“This year, for World Refugee Day, we’re highlighting the important contributions refugees make to New Zealand, in particular as essential workers during the various lockdowns: nurses, supermarket assistants, caregivers, truck drivers, cleaners, journalists, etc. Many of these jobs are ones that sometimes go unnoticed but are jobs that were vital for Aotearoa to get through lockdown. We want to celebrate how these refugee-background Kiwis have helped the rest of New Zealand during some of our toughest times. We are grateful they are part of our community.

“In te reo, the term ‘awhi’ translates to embrace and ‘matihiko’ is digital, so we hope that our collaborative efforts with the ‘Awhi Matihiko: Red Cross Digital Settlement Package’ will be a wrap-around service that will equip our new New Zealanders with digital access and skills that will enable them to flourish in Aotearoa.”

Spark CEO Jolie Hodson says that as New Zealand transitions to more digital ways of working, learning and connecting, Kiwis without an internet connection at home find themselves increasingly excluded.

“Settling into a new country can be a daunting process for anyone, and even more so for those who have been forced to leave their homes and are starting from scratch. So much of our lives is digital now, from how our kids are learning, how we work, how we find jobs and services, and how we stay connected with friends and family near and far, and we hope that having access to an internet connection and a device at home will help these families create a new life in Aotearoa,” says Hodson.

Jordan Carter, CEO of Internet NZ, says the Red Cross Digital Settlement Package recognises that in this changing world, digital inclusion will be a key foundation for economic productivity and growth, wellbeing and sustainability.

“Last year Internet NZ released our Five Point Inclusion plan for digital equity in Aotearoa, which has been signed by a number of organisations, calling for a combined approach with industry and government to tackle digital inequity which disproportionately affects some groups more than others. We hope that Awhi Matihiko which not only offers these households an internet connection at home and a device, but also equips them with wraparound support and digital skills to help them get started, will be an opportunity for our refugee community to showcase their strengths and skills in their new home country,” says Carter.

The first cohort of families, who arrived in the country in early May, have already received digital settlement packages and feedback so far has been humbling.

Asif Ahman, who arrived in New Zealand as a refugee from Pakistan in 2017, says that the ‘Awhi Matihiko: Red Cross Digital Settlement Package’ will expand opportunities for new refugees.

“When people look at refugees, they see needy people, but many refugees, wherever they come from, are only refugees because they were forced to leave their home country. If you provide them with the right tools and opportunities, they are going to thrive,” says Ahman.

“I was just 19 when I fled Pakistan, seeking refugee status and after many months of unsuccessfully trying to find a job, my brother and I started learning graphic design online at home. These skills enabled us to set up our own business which has allowed us to provide for our family as we’ve made our home in Aotearoa. I’m excited to see how this digital package will help other refugees like myself gain valuable digital skills and feel empowered as they settle into their new lives.”

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