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Wellington Community Justice Project: Part 1 Human Rights

The Wellington Community Justice Project is a social justice-focused student-led initiative that Victoria University of Wellington’s Law School. It aims to improve access to justice in New Zealand and the community and give their volunteers opportunities to develop their legal skills.

The WCJP has four core teams: Advocacy, Education, Human Rights and Law Reform. These four teams work to address injustices in the community through various projects. For example, the Human Rights team is currently working on the Asylum Seekers Equality Project which aims to campaign for the equal treatment of asylum seekers, and Rights Information Sessions, where volunteers give presentations in communities to refugees about what their rights are and what resources are available to them.

In this four part series, Survive Law interviewed student volunteers from every team to discuss their experience in volunteering for the WCJP, the highlights and challenges they’ve faced as part of the projects and why they were interested in joining. This week, we focus on the Human Rights team. What have been some highlights of the Human Rights team so far this year?

Asylum Seekers Equality Project: We are making waves in the community to determine the specific issues Asylum Seekers face when they come to New Zealand, in particular the support provided in the pre-acceptance stage. Our volunteers have been working hard to propose policy to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and present their findings to other key stakeholders in the community so change is able to be executed from the center. MB has promised their support in translating and printing a tangible brochure that will be given out at the airports when Asylum Seekers arrive into New Zealand.

Rights Information Sessions: We have had a massive refocus of this project and in doing this we are in the process of collaborating with members of the community to ensure the information meets their needs effectively. Furthermore, the volunteers presenting the new Refugee Youth module are moving these presentations out to schools in the community who have students from refugee backgrounds.

What does the Human Rights team look for in its volunteers? What role do your volunteers have?

Asylum Seekers Equality Project: We look for self-motivated and driven individuals that can use their creative thinking skills to present and collate information and present this to key influencers who are able to execute change. This project involves different sub-teams – policy, government, social media and events. Each team has a focused role that contributes to the overall goal of policy change. Rights Information Sessions: Volunteers who can accurately research on their proposed topic and decide how to be present the information to the communities. Volunteers on this project must also adapt to challenges that may arise in this process and be open-minded in changing the style of delivering the information if it is not working.

James O’Donovan (Rights Information Sessions)

What does being a volunteer in the Rights Information Team involve?

Traditionally being a member of the Rights Information Team in the WCJP has involved creating presentations to convey information on different topics to refugee communities in the Wellington area. There are a number of topics ranging from Housing New Zealand, to Tax. The aim of the presentations is to equip refugees with essential information on their rights, the assistance available to them, and the means of standing up for these rights. As a new member of the team I am excited to be a part of a project that is progressing and taking new directions. For example, for the first time we are presenting in Porirua and the Hutt Valley as opposed to Central Wellington. Additionally, part of the team are in the process of creating a brochure which summarises our presentations. This will be distributed to refugee communities making the information more accessible. I’m looking forward to being a part of a team that is only expanding and improving. Why were you interested in being part of the Rights Information Team?

As a migrant myself the idea of helping people who are new to the country seemed perfect. It seems wrong that refugees, who are seeking a better life, should move to a country like New Zealand where there are so many opportunities, protections, and assistance plans in place, and yet not be aware of them. I have always been passionate about the plight of refugees, and I am a firm supporter of schemes which bring more asylum seekers to New Zealand. However, I am aware that gaining entry to New Zealand is only one of the first steps. This is where the Rights Information Team provides some help and why I was drawn to the project. New Zealand is one of the best places in the world to live as it provides ways for people to seek relief, a helping hand, and protect their rights. The issue, is that unless you are aware of these institutions, you cannot fully utilise them. This project provides a way for refugees to enjoy the full scope of the new life they have entered and overcome the hurdle of unfamiliarity. This is what appealed to me about this project. While other teams within the Community Justice Project also provide essential assistance, the Rights Information Team hit closer to home. I wanted to help other newcomers to make the most of the New Zealand way of life. What exciting projects have you been part of so far?

Earlier this year my partner and I created a presentation on Housing New Zealand. In it we had information on applying for state housing, tenancy rights, and some of the various types of support available through Housing New Zealand. We then ran a presentation in Porirua to around 20 people from the refugee community. As it was my first presentation I wasn’t sure what to expect but the response we received was fantastic. Everyone present seemed to really appreciate the presentation and what we had to say. Apart from a bit of a row between two of the interpreters I’d say it was a success. What have been some highlights and challenges whilst being part of the Rights Information Team?

Without a doubt, the greatest challenge was the question and answer session after our presentation. While answering the questions was difficult at times, it was relatively easy compared with the feeling of helplessness after hearing the stories of some of the refugee families. One family had been almost constantly on the move and unable to find a home for over 7 months since they arriving in New Zealand. Another was having difficulties having been stuck in emergency accommodation for nearly a year whilst waiting for a state house. Their situation was made worse by the fact that their son had turned 18 and so they were told by Housing New Zealand to start the process all over again.

For refugees who have come so far in the pursuit of a better life to be trapped in such frustrating positions is incredibly unjust. It was especially challenging given that they had come to us for help. At the time I felt powerless as it felt there was very little I could do to help. However, while it was my greatest challenge I would also say that in hindsight it was one of the highlights. In that moment I was in a position where I had the potential to help others and that was what I had signed up for.

Emily Scrimgeour (Asylum Seekers Equality Project)

What does being a volunteer in the ASEP team involve?

ASEP is a project centered around securing a policy change for the provision of services for Asylum Seekers. Thus being a volunteer on the project includes increasing public awareness of the issue as well as reaching out to key decision makers and community members. My role in the project has been in the government team where we spend our time meeting with MPs to garner support for policy change. Why were you interested in being part of the Asylum Seekers Equality Project? What exciting projects have you been part of so far?

I was interested in getting involved because I was moved by the life experiences of convention refugees when I read Marking time, and also meet people who had been through the process. What have been some highlights and challenges whilst being part of the Asylum Seekers Equality Project?

A highlight for me has been getting to talk on NewsTalk ZB about the project. A challenge has been the long term nature of the project so sustaining momentum during busy times or holidays.

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