Former Palestinian refugee says he’s been forced to live in a van since arriving in New Zealand

New Zealand (QNN) – Born a refugee, Ibrahim Aziz came to New Zealand to start a new life. Almost a year later he is living in a van, and contemplating leaving the country.

“I have spent half my life just waiting,” the 37-year-old Palestinian man said.

He spent years waiting for Israeli authorities to issue him with the paperwork he needed to leave his homeland, and then spent several years in Malaysia before any country would take him.

Now his patience with New Zealand, where he arrived on July 4, has fast run out.

He has a long list of grievances with agencies, with those encounters resulting in him cancelling his benefit, going on a hunger strike, and spending several nights in a mental health facility.

“Why should I be a New Zealander if I’m never respected?” he asks, standing in central Dunedin by the van he has called home for two months.

He maintained that many refugees were too scared of speaking out over fears they would be stripped of their permanent residence.

That included issues with agencies, employment and housing.

His situation comes weeks after Stuff highlighted housing issues faced by some former refugees living in Dunedin.

That included families living in a cold, damp homes, which left children with blood stained mattresses as they struggled to breath at night, and sodden and mouldy carpet infested with worms.

Community worker Charlotte Wilson, of The Valley Project which helped some of the refugee families with this housing plight said some refugees felt abandoned by Red Cross and Government agencies.

That included one former refugee whose stress levels “are as high if he is at war and he feels unsafe”.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment declined to release information over housing concerns raised by those former refugees, citing privacy.

However Andrew Lockhart, Immigration New Zealand’s refugee and protection national manager, confirmed “three significant matters that directly impacted on the tenancy”, had been raised among a small number of concerns about housing.

Those issues included location, condition, rental cost and ongoing tenancy of the properties.

Quota refugees such as Ibrahim Aziz, who was one of 548 to resettle in Dunedin in the three year period to April 5, 2019.

Aziz said he could not fault the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre, where refugees participate in a reception programme that focuses on living and working in New Zealand.

It was there at the Auckland-based facility where the housing needs of all quota refugees were assessed by the Ministry of Social Development.

Those families were given detailed information about benefit support, and then Housing New Zealand helped match them with public properties, or if no match a private rental house was sought by Immigration New Zealand.

Aziz, who has no family, said he had no complaints about his subsidised house which he paid $53 a week for.

But in April he decided to stop that rental, and move into his non-self contained van with a mattress in the back..

“It was a stupid decision,” he concedes given winter was fast approaching, but was happy other people would be able to live in the house.

But he remained unhappy with Red Cross, which is contracted by Immigration New Zealand to provide 12 months settlement support to quota refuges in the current settlement locations.

That programme included community orientation programmes, and connecting refugees to services such as medical appointments, English language courses, housing support, education and employment.

Aziz said he had issues with Red Cross, and felt his card was marked from the start.

“I received things from the Government; table to eat on, and fridge.”

He declined the Red Cross offers of other extras such as a TV, and because “if I need something I will work to get it”.

Red Cross told Stuff the organisation would “not comment on individual cases”.

“We take complaints about any of our work seriously and have processes in place to help ensure they are dealt with effectively and appropriately.”

Aziz remained concerned that the offers from Red Cross would make former refugees “just expect things from you”.

“I don’t want things, I want things to help me with my new community, like services.”

Aziz, who had worked as a facilitator with the United Nations in Palestine, said all he wanted was a job.

“I want to work. I will do anything.”

Instead he was told that was too soon, and instead he had to improve his English.

He became stressed, and “I stayed inside these four walls, and I don’t have any friends”.

That stress cumulated in him going on a hunger strike back in October, and then he spent several days in a mental health facility – “the lowest point in my life”.

His mounting stress led to him shifting his home into a van, staying at freedom camping spots around Dunedin, while working as a cleaner and offering gardening services.

At one point he even stopped his bank account and his benefit.

“I wanted to leave the country,” the Palestinian passport holder said.

Aziz left for Wellington last week, where he plans to save for a ticket back to Malaysia in the next few months.

“It is better for me than just my eat and sleep life here.”

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