While Kiwis across Aotearoa were preparing themselves and their bubbles to go into lockdown under Alert Level 4, our teams were reaching out to New Zealand’s newest residents to ensure they had access to the right information and support.

Many former refugees across Aotearoa who have just settled in the country were still adapting to their new city, finding their way to the supermarket, understanding how to pay bills, learning English or even getting to know their neighbours when New Zealand moved into Alert Level 4. Red Cross’ role has been to ensure that all new arrivals received the appropriate support as we all headed into lockdown.

Information saves lives

In times of disasters and emergencies, access to accurate information saves lives. For former refugees in New Zealand, it’s crucial that they receive health and hygiene messages in a language they can understand. Our teams of cross-cultural workers and interpreters have translated COVID-19 messages from the Ministry of Health into 15 languages (Amharic, Arabic, Burmese, Farsi, Kayah, Kinyarwanda, Nepali, Pashto, Rohingya, Somali, Spanish, Tamil, Tigrinya,Urdu and Zolai).

Access translated resources

To ensure all new arrivals understand how to keep safe, what self-isolation means and what to do if a family member shows COVID-19 symptoms, the delivery of the key information has been a mix of translated and pre-recorded audio messages, as well as individual phone calls.

“Some of the people we work with prefer to receive oral as opposed to written messages, so sending information via email or text messages whether in English or in their native tongue was not going to be effective. This is why in some instances, our team recorded themselves explaining the Ministry of Health’s messages in a language the new arrivals understand and shared them via WhatsApp. This information will save lives,” explains Rachel O’Connor, GM Manager Migration.

“Every time an update comes out, we translate it and get it out into the hands of people who need to hear that.”

Self-isolation plan

Outside Alert Level 4, our Pathways to Settlement programme empowers new Kiwis as they rebuild their lives in Aotearoa. During these unprecedented times, our role remains the same, but the type of support we offer families and individuals has adapted to the current situation. We’ve worked with each household to ensure that they have a self-isolation plan which helps them meet essential needs. This means ensuring they have enough groceries, warm clothing, etc., and that their social connections are established.

“We are supporting 358 families composed of 1136 people, some of which only arrived a couple of days before the lockdown,” says Rachel.

“Orientation of new Kiwis remains a priority and we’re focusing on use of essential services: use of a doctor, emergency services and food shopping. Food parcels are being arranged for households needing assistance and we are developing a system to distribute food vouchers to those in need.”

Regular contact

Ministry of Social Development (MSD) has recognised our support to former refugees as an essential service allowed to operate during the current Alert Level 4 lockdown. While support from a distance is our priority during the Alert Level 4 guidelines, we are still mandated to provide safe and face-to-face support to families and individuals when required.

All our refugee programme staff and well over 1,000 current and previous refugee support volunteers around the country reach out to families regularly. That includes ensuring that every family who has arrived in the last year is getting a phone call each day.

“Our amazing volunteers, often the first Kiwi friends that families make on arrival, are coming up with creative ways to support families or individuals during the lockdown. Some volunteers take time to read bedtime stories to the children through video calls so they can see pictures, they organise drawing session to give mum a rest, or others exchange daily photos or recipes of their baking and gardening activities,” explains Rachel.

“Seeing a friendly face at a time of stress and worry can make all the difference to somebody’s day, so our volunteers keep in contact. This support, although virtual, can help to alleviate the isolation many will be feeling over the next few weeks.”

How you can help

You might not have seen us on the street recently, but we need your support now more than ever. We are ramping up our response effort to make sure we are providing support to those who need it most during COVID-19, whether that is through ensuring we deliver Meals on Wheels to elderly people, checking in on former refugees or dropping off medicines and groceries to vulnerable Kiwis.