'I do worry' - Concerns surround welfare of asylum seekers

Advocates are concerned for the welfare of asylum seekers that come to New Zealand, with funding and rights issues of those seeking a safe life here causing worry.

It comes after Stuff reported last month Immigration NZ asked the Asylum Seekers Support Trust (ASST) to indefinitely house two people released from detention facilities in their 16-person hostel, which they managed to do, despite it being already full.

Mustafa Derbashi of the ASST and a member of the advisory group to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the terrorist attack on Christchurch mosques, told 1News that adequate support given to asylum seekers in New Zealand was long overdue.

"There is this group of vulnerable people, they struggle to just to have some rights. We try to give them what we can, however we are a very small, tiny organisation with limited resources. Our hands, sometimes we feel are really tied.

"However, I believe in New Zealand we are the country of aroha, that everyone who lives in New Zealand has access to a dignified life."

Derbashi said the hostel acted as emergency accommodation for the people who have nowhere else to go.

He said they did not mind the referrals from Immigration New Zealand, but "there are issues… we don't really have all the capacity".

"I am worried and that is why we are here to try and change what is going on at the moment."

Some people needed significant mental health support as well, which the ASST are not made aware of prior.

"With our capacity, with our budget, we can't really," Derbashi said.

"I do worry. No one should be left alone to deal with all these issues. No one in the world should just be on their own because they are an asylum seeker.

"We have roughly 500-600 clients a year. We try to help them in all things they might need. We try to help them to have access to some of the services that they are allowed to have. Applications, WINZ, immigration, food parcels, trying to get them into employment.

"We rely on the private sector and we will keep advocating and shouting out that we need to have Government funding to be able to deliver this service."

The ASST in collaboration with the Centre for Asia Pacific Refugee Studies released a report on what it described as the key policy gaps for refugees and people seeking asylum.

It detailed a lack of support across mental health, social welfare and working rights and made recommendations of possible improvements.

Immigration NZ's Andrew Lockhart said they were aware of the "funding constraints of the ASST".

"If an individual who claims asylum requires assistance in finding accommodation, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) may approach the ASST to inquire whether they are able to accommodate the individual.

"It is difficult to know how long an individual who has claimed asylum may require accommodation assistance, as this may change during the time that their claim is being determined. For example, if they are issued with a work visa and able to access employment or social welfare support, they may no longer need accommodation assistance."

He said those housed in the community may be eligible for a living allowance.

"In response to the 2022 Victoria Casey KC review into restrictions on liberty of asylum claimants, INZ is undertaking work in relation to the welfare of asylum claimants in New Zealand."

Derbashi said one of the most important aspects for people coming into New Zealand as an asylum seekers is to know they're safe and are going to be treated well.

"It's not happening… we need people to have different and better experiences."

A scathing review earlier this year found the treatment and long-term detention of asylum seekers "wrong at every level", "inhumane" and "contrary to our society's core values".

Child in a refugee camp.

The Government promised to stop imprisoning asylum seekers while their claims were processed, with Associate Immigration Minister Phil Twyford saying in May that, "New Zealand is better than this".

"We want to do the right thing by people who are fleeing persecution and seeking refuge in our country."

It came after a highly critical report released by Amnesty NZ in 2021 that showed 86 asylum seekers were arrested and detained in New Zealand prisons - solely on immigration grounds.

The report stated the detention in a police cell or prison "ranged from several days to several years".

It said several people who were later recognised as refugees that had been imprisoned, had previously experienced torture, mistreatment or sexual or gender-based violence.

Derbashi said he wanted to acknowledge and thank the Government for initiating the review about the imprisonment of asylum seekers.

"But I'm still saying... We can do better, we can invest in those people and look in the long term of what those people can bring to our community."

He wanted asylum seekers to be treated equally, as well as short time periods between their applications being processed.