Ukrainians hoping to flee war struggling with NZ paperwork

Source: 1News

Ukrainians in New Zealand say a Government policy granting special visas for family members is failing many - leaving them in fear for their loved ones back home.

Asia Aharkova moved to Aotearoa nearly five years ago, but her thoughts are for her family back in Ukraine.

"It’s very hard because I am in New Zealand right now all by myself so I come back to an empty house there is no one waiting for me."

A special policy, launched in March, allows Ukrainian born New Zealanders to sponsor entry visas for family members.

As of this week, Immigration New Zealand says it's received 835 sponsorship requests and 782 visa applications.

Of that, 575 have been granted.

To be eligible, you must be living in Ukraine from January this year and have close family members in New Zealand.

Asia says her younger brother and her mother fit the criteria, but those like her father, a Russian citizen living in Ukraine without a passport, don't.

She says, despite his country of origin, his life is in no less danger.

"He can’t go back to Russia as well because he will be considered a betrayer."

Even if he wanted to, she says, the war makes safely crossing the border from Ukraine to Russia, impossible.

"He [would] actually have to cross the war line - and once you’re in Russia he wouldn’t be able to fly out."

Asia knows of others struggling with the visa requirements.

"I know one lady that can’t take over her niece because she’s not considered a close relative but her parents died and this child left by herself."

And those who are successful must bear the cost of supporting their family once they are here.

"[The] Government doesn’t even want to help these people with anything... there is absolutely no financial support," says Asia.

Asia has even started a Givealittle page to shoulder the financial burden.

"I have to pay for [the] tickets myself... we have to get by, somehow, the first month when they come here - until they can find their first job, and get their first wage."

Amnesty International believes New Zealand's efforts aren't good enough.

"They need to be ensuring that they're putting effort in... to make sure we're doing everything we can to support the people who need it over there," says campaign director Lisa Woods.

Guled Mire, is a Fulbright scholar, former refugee and advocate.

He says it's disheartening to see Ukrainians struggle to navigate the system.

"I do think the New Zealand Government could be doing more.

"For starters, we need to make sure our refugee composition quota programme is fit for purpose.

"We currently don't have a category for European refugees... we have a focus on the Asia Pacific region."

Guled is calling for a fair, equitable system, and for the Government to meet its humanitarian obligations.

"The way in which our refugee system is geared up is not designed to adequately respond to where the greatest needs are."