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New Kiwis find pathway to give back

Machinist Manahel fled Syria more than five years ago and now works for Elco Apparel in Dunedin. Photo: New Zealand Red Cross

People who’ve fled war or persecution and found refuge in New Zealand often desire to give back to their new home country because of the help they’ve received.

 They may want to change direction from their previous jobs to do this, says Claire Speedy, the New Zealand Red Cross Pathways to Employment Dunedin Manager.

“Some want to change direction and give back to the community because of all the people that have helped them.”

Former refugees may do this through finding jobs in healthcare, community development or social services.

When Claire worked in Auckland, she noticed many young former refugees were excited about the training and opportunities available in their new home country.

They’d often want to find work helping others, including those from migrant and refugee backgrounds.

“Sometimes the experience that people have gone through themselves can shift their motivation.”

Supporting people from refugee backgrounds to find work: the New Zealand Red Cross Pathways to Employment Team in Dunedin, Claire Speedy (right) and Mike Dooley

Refugees have escaped war, persecution or oppression. Those starting new lives in New Zealand come from nations that include Iraq, Iran, Syria, Columbia, Bhutan, Burma, Eritrea, South Sudan and Afghanistan.

Claire is inspired by how despite significant challenges, they remain hopeful, positive and keen to care for their families.

The people that we work with are amazingly resilient,” she says.


“They are amazing, capable and strong.”

Pathway to employment

The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) funds the Pathways to Employment programme which supports people from refugee backgrounds along their journey to employment in New Zealand.

It operates in 13 locations, from Auckland to Invercargill.

Most participants are receiving Jobseeker or Sole Parent Support. Some have lived here only for six months and are eager to start full-time study or paid work.

Others may have first taken a year or two to study English and sort out their families, including getting children settled into schools.

“The goal is to support people towards self-sufficiency and help them understand their options, either short-term or long-term,” Claire explains.

This may mean retraining in a new field or gaining qualifications to support the skills they have.

For example, a teacher, doctor, nurse or midwife might have years of experience but New Zealand professional bodies might not recognise their qualifications.

A newcomer might be a lawyer but unable to practise here because of the different legal system.

Builders may be unfamiliar with our building materials, techniques and legislation. Many Syrians are stonemasons with different skills and styles to what is used here, she says.

Stonemason Mahmoud Alashour is one of 10 Syrian former refugees who Pathways to Employment helped find work building the Otago Harbour wall extension. Photo: New Zealand Red Cross

Even though they’re highly experienced, they may need support to gain a New Zealand qualification or to work initially as an apprentice.

Claire illustrates how language can be another barrier.

“If we went into war tomorrow and I had to flee to another country that speaks another language…I wouldn’t be able to work in the same capacity.”

Some arrivals speak minimal English, while others have advanced English skills.

Throughout Aotearoa, Pathways to Employment partners with employers who are open to hiring jobseekers. The programme is always seeking more employers.

Pathways teams help former refugees with curriculum vitae and interview preparation, and how to understand New Zealand’s recruitment processes and workplace expectations.

Cross-cultural staff liaise about cultural and language hurdles and translate during induction courses or specialist training.

Claire notes that people from a refugee background often have a strong work ethic and add value to teams.

These recent Kiwis now work in a range of fields including: IT, engineering, hospitality, healthcare, retail, social work, administration, hairdressing and other trades, or as bi-lingual teacher aides.

Throughout the country, from July 1, 2021 until March 31, 2022, Pathways to Employment assisted 552 new clients.

Of these, 142 are now employed for more than 15 hours a week, so are no longer MSD beneficiaries.

A further 87 have worked in their new jobs for 91 days or more, 67 have been working for 182 days or more, 29 have begun full-time study and 144 have done extra training.

Claire says before they became refugees, many people had worked hard for many years, built their own homes and established businesses.

Gaining employment in New Zealand is really important for their identity, resettlement and sense of connection.

“It’s such a huge part of people’s identity, what you do for a living,” she says.

“It can make a huge difference to feeling at home, safe, that you belong and contribute to community.”

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For further information:

About Pathways to Employment

About refugees to New Zealand

Nedal Ebrahim’s story


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