On World Refugee Day, June 20, New Zealand Red Cross is recognising the important contribution former refugees made as essential workers during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Essential workers risked their health to ensure the rest of the country had access to supplies, health care, news, transport and other essential services. They became the COVID-19 legends – and some of these people were from refugee backgrounds.

 “Many of these jobs are ones that sometimes go unnoticed but are jobs that were vital for Aotearoa to get through lockdown,” says Rachel O’Connor, New Zealand Red Cross GM Migration.

 “On World Refugee Day, we want to celebrate how these refugee-background Kiwis have helped the rest of New Zealand during some of our toughest times. We are grateful they are part of our community.”

 New Zealand Red Cross is launching a campaign called ‘Essential Kiwi Legends’, profiling different former refugees who worked through the nationwide lockdown: a nurse, a truck driver, a supermarket assistant, a caregiver, a bus driver and a case manager.

 “We didn’t know our jobs would be essential, so we were worried when lockdown was coming. We are very proud we were still working,” says Lian Thuam, caregiver and former refugee.

 Lin Thuam Cin, bus driver and former refugee, adds: “I am always thinking how I can give back to this country, this was a good opportunity to do this.”

 With COVID-19 border closures and travel restrictions around the world, there has been no refugees reaching New Zealand since March 2020. World Refugee Day also marks a day to remember the 70.8 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, among whom half are under the age of 18*.

 “Only one percent of this number is resettled – and we must remember they are people, not just numbers,” says Rachel O’Connor.

 In July 2020, New Zealand is due to increase its refugee quota from 1,000 refugees settled a year to 1,500 but, with the current border closures, this remain uncertain.

 *UNHCR, 2019, Figures at a Glance.

Media contact

For more information or to set up an interview with a former refugee in your region, please contact Elodie Berthe, Communications Advisor on 04 495 0139 or

Essential Kiwi Legends Our work with refugees