On Matt Vickers and refugees

I am processing two difficult thoughts this morning.

One is a beautifully written article by Matt Vickers, On Simon O’Connor’s Comments On Suicide. (lecretia.org/on-simon-oconnors-comments)


The other is a public meeting I attended last night.

It was about Invercargill soon becoming a place for refugee resettlement and as much as I feel strongly about the importance of support towards refugees, I came away feeling quite... uncomfortable.

It started off lovely. Dawit, a former refugee from Ethiopia gave his account of his journey to New Zealand in the 80's and 90's, talking about the violence he's witnessed along the way and the importance of support towards the displaced. 

Red Cross spoke. Andrew Lockhart from Immigration NZ spoke.

And then... that's when it turned kind of sour.

The organisers had invited two women from Colombia to talk about the country - to introduce the place where Invercargill's refugees will be from (for the foreseeable future, anyway). And I mean no disrespect to them, their talk was heartfelt... but I felt it set such an unhelpful tone to the rest of the evening.

The first speaker did her best to talk about the positive things about Colombia: she showed us a tourism-oriented marketing video, talked about the wonderful food, about the importance of festivals, how bright the country is, about the beautiful landscape is.

The second speaker talked about Colombia's high cost of living, and how moving to New Zealand allows people to have better opportunities.

They did not talk about Colombian refugees, or about reasons people may get classified as refugees in the first place.

By the time they finished and it was time for questions and answers, the first question was from an older gentleman who asked what, I think, many other attendees were already thinking: that after seeing that wonderful video and hearing about the positives about Colombia why, exactly, are the people coming to New Zealand?

Please understand: I know it is possible to talk warmly about lots of places in the world that are torn apart by conflict. Someone can show beautiful landscapes of Afganistan without even *mentioning* the cost of human life there, and the atrocities committed every day.

But... seeing that sort of tone set for a *refugee* meeting as Invercargill prepares for becoming a refugee settlement, it made me feel so sad about the evening.

It took several questions and answers before the problems of Colombia even started getting discussed - about the pockets of violence remaining in the country, and why people get displaced in the first place.

The meeting lasted about an hour and a half. Some people spoke of the support they have towards the program, others of concerns they have for the region's housing etc.

In the end, having the meeting was a very important step taken by the council, thank you!

But... nevertheless as I process what I heard yesterday, I so wish some of that marketing-type presentation had not been made last night, and feel sad for the tone it had set for the rest of the evening.

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