In its nine years, the Trust has approved 183 applications for assistance from refugees in Wellington needing help with the costs of bringing their families to join them here. Some refugees have needed assistance on more than one occasion, for example, at the beginning of the immigration process (with the cost of application fees and medicals required by Immigration New Zealand), and then with the cost of airfares – the final step in reuniting a family. In total, 142 separate refugee families have been helped. It is very rewarding to see so many families reunited after such long separations from each other, and to know that the Trust has played a vital part in this outcome.
In the past year alone, the Trust has approved 20 applications (totalling $59,000) for funding from refugees living in Wellington to enable them to be reunited with their family members who had been left behind. The total number of refugees benefitting through the Trust is even greater than these figures indicate, as most refugees assisted by the Trust have brought out more than one family member. For example, this year ten applications for funding resulted in the Trust paying for airfares to bring 29 refugees - including 16 children - to join their families here. The Trust's 183 grants include payments for airfares to bring around 313 refugees – many of whom were children and young people - to re-join their families in Wellington.
Since the Trust was established, we have raised more than $700,000 for refugees. We are particularly proud of this achievement, as not a single dollar of donations has been used to generate this income. We do not pay for advertising, fundraisers, salaries or rent so that 100% of donations can be given to refugees. No remuneration is paid to the Trustees. Separate funding is obtained specifically for necessary administration costs, and we are able to keep these costs to a bare minimum due to the Trust's reliance on unpaid volunteers. The Trust does not receive any government funding.
By nationality, the families who have been assisted by the Trust were originally from Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iraq, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Liberia, Sudan, Myanmar, Colombia and Banda Ache. Many of these families were living in refugee camps in Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan.
Although it is a constant challenge for the Trust to raise money, it is even more difficult for refugees to do this for themselves. We will continue to do our best to raise enough money to help all refugees in Wellington who are eligible to be reunited with their families. Despite having received a very significant donation for the benefit of refugees in the Hutt Valley (see story on Page 2), we do not have enough funds to meet the needs of refugees in other parts of Wellington.
Dr Andrew Wilkinson (MB ChB FRACP) was a general practitioner in Lower Hutt from the late 1950s until his death in 1999. Dr Wilkinson left a $100,000 bequest for the benefit of refugees living in the Hutt Valley. For ten years, the A.C.H. Wilkinson Refugee Trust invested this money wisely, and each year used the interest from investments to provide loans and grants to individual refugees, and groups supporting refugees, in the Hutt Valley. In total, approximately $50,000 was distributed for a wide range of purposes, including reuniting family members. Support was also given to a social learning group for refugee and migrant women and their preschoolers, and to the Hutt Valley New Settlers Trust.
Dr Wilkinson was born in China, where his parents were Presbyterian missionaries, and he always had a real affinity with people from other cultures. In the early years of his General Practice, recently-arrived Tokelau Islanders could be seen waiting on the front lawn of his Lower Hutt surgery. Dr Wilkinson would gently encourage them to understand that making an appointment was the way that things were done in New Zealand.
Dr Wilkinson and his wife, Marilyn, were active members of St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, now St Marks Uniting Church, in Lower Hutt. It was through this church in the early 1980s that they began assisting in the resettlement of refugee families from Vietnam, Somalia and Iraq. For many years the Hutt branch of Refugee Services was based in the church hall, and both the church and the Wilkinson family home became drop-off points for household furniture and clothing for refugee families. Marilyn continues her voluntary work supporting refugee families in Porirua.
The A.C.H. Wilkinson Refugee Trust was wound up in April 2010, and the Trustees decided to make a capital distribution of the bulk of its assets to the Refugee Family Reunification Trust specifically for the benefit of Hutt Valley refugees. As Marilyn explains:
"In winding up this Trust it was completely appropriate for the trust fund to be transferred primarily to the Refugee Family Reunification Trust, but also a small portion to Refugee Services Hutt Valley. Anyone who has worked with refugee people knows that for them to relax in their new country they need to know that loved ones are safe and well cared for. Bringing those loved ones here is often the best solution. I wish the Refugee Family Reunification Trust well in its continued efforts to respond to requests from refugee people to be reunited with their families."
We wish to record our deepest and heartfelt thanks to the Trustees of the A.C.H. Wilkinson Refugee Trust for this very significant donation, which will enable us to have a profound impact on the lives of many refugee families in the Hutt Valley. In helping these families, it is our privilege to continue the work that Dr Wilkinson started, and which was obviously so important to him. We would also like to acknowledge the generosity and kindness of Dr Wilkinson"s family, which will continue to benefit some of the most disadvantaged people in our community for years to come.
We remain extremely grateful to all our donors, who are ultimately responsible for the successful reunification of so many deserving families. We hope that you are able to continue your support, as each donation – whether by way of regular automatic payment, or a one-off gift – is a vital contribution towards getting a family back together again.
Several individuals and private Trusts, who wish to remain anonymous, have made very generous donations to our Trust. Other significant donors over the past year include the A.C.H. Wilkinson Refugee Trust, Caritas, the Thomas George Macarthy Trust, Te Papa Tongarewa, New Zealand Post, and Queen Margaret College. Your support is greatly appreciated.
Many volunteers have kindly given their time. Special thanks to Chris Brimer for keeping the accounts. English Language Partners Wellington support us in a number of ways, including by the use of their box number. We would also like to thank the Trust's auditor, Peter Scholtens. We are very grateful to Phil Dyer for taking photographs for the Christmas card and for this newsletter, and to Lesley Hooper for helping to manage the database. David Colls again generously donated his time to format this newsletter, and Simon Calder designed the Trust's website on a pro bono basis and also kindly paid for both the registration of our name and the hosting of our website.
On 24 August 2001 Mohammad was one of 438 refugees saved from a sinking wooden fishing boat by the Norwegian freighter, MV Tampa. He was only 24 years old. Mohammad then spent three years on Nauru before being accepted for resettlement in New Zealand. He arrived in New Zealand in September 2004, and began his new life in Wellington six weeks later.
Mohammad is originally from a small rural village in the mountains of central Afghanistan. As a young man, it became too dangerous for him to stay because of threats from the Taliban and local fighting, and so he was forced to flee his home in 2000. When Mohammad arrived in Nauru, he did not speak, read or write English but he was determined to learn fast, and so spent his days copying words from the newspaper, not knowing what they meant but just practising writing. To improve his speech, he also sought out anyone who could speak English. After three years teaching himself English, he could communicate and understand enough to get by. After his arrival in New Zealand, Mohammad found work, and for four years held down two fulltime jobs (working day and night shifts). He is also taking a Foundation Course at Victoria University so that he can go on to University to study fulltime.
Mohammad has recently successfully applied under the Refugee Family Support Category to bring his parents and six siblings to join him in New Zealand. His siblings are aged between 12 and 23 years old. They have been living as refugees in Karachi, Pakistan, for the past four years in very poor, overcrowded conditions with a lack of basic amenities. Karachi is not a safe place for refugees. The Trust has approved $11,000 towards their airfares, and they are expected to arrive before Christmas.
For the fifth successive year, students in Year 9 at Queen Margaret College undertook a variety of fundraising initiatives to raise funds for the Trust. They also collected a food basket and household items to give to Mohammad's family on their arrival in Wellington. Mohammad is very grateful for all of that support for him and his family.
Mohammad's is a remarkable story about an impressive, hardworking refugee who is determined to contribute to the country that has given him so many opportunities - opportunities that he has grasped with both hands. Despite everything else happening in his life, every year on the anniversary of his rescue, Mohammad has written a letter of thanks to the Captain of the Tampa, Arne Rinnan.
The Refugee Family Reunification Trust is a charitable trust incorporated under the Charitable Trusts Act 1957 and registered under the Charities Act 2005. Donations of $5 or more can be tax deductible.
The pure of the Trust is to financially assist refugees in Wellington to bring immediate family members to join them here. Reuniting these families greatly improves the lives of those refugees already living in New Zealand, and is critical to their successful resettlement and integration.
All money raised is used exclusively to help refugees pay for the expenses directly related to bringing family members from refugee situations. This includes application fees charged by, and medical reports required by, Immigration New Zealand, and the cost of airfares to bring approved family members to New Zealand.