Growing your own youth group

26 July 2016, 11:25 UTC | New Zealand
© Private Logan Park High students meet Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse
By Katharine Woolrych, Student at Logan Park High School

When we started up our Amnesty Youth Group in late Term One this year, we raised our eyebrows when we were provided with resources entitled ‘How to Make a Banner’, ‘How to Write a Press Release’, ‘How to Write a Letter’ and ‘How to Speak With Politicians’. As novices, we were impressed, but we immediately thought this was all far beyond the scope of what our group could achieve. Only a few months later I’m proud to say we’ve surprised even ourselves by what we’ve achieved: we have done ALL of those activities! I hope that by hearing about some of our activities you’ll see that anything is possible, even if you’re just starting out like us.

In Term Two, we asked our group which human rights issues they felt most passionate about. The resounding response was the refugee crisis, and so we decided to host a documentary evening with a guest speaker for World Refugee Day. Meanwhile, we wrote letters to the Government demanding a quota increase and attended a fascinating exhibition of refugee portraits with speakers that got us very fired up on the issue.   

"We wrote to Michael Woodhouse to request a meeting. We were delighted and surprised when he accepted the invitation to visit our school. This was our opportunity to ask the Minister of Immigration, a figure with significant influence over NZ’s policy on refugees, any questions we pleased."

It was initially slightly disheartening when we received blunt referrals to the Minister of Immigration in response to our letters and subsequent template responses. Nevertheless, we ploughed on, and on the off-chance, we wrote to Michael Woodhouse to request a meeting. We were delighted and surprised when he accepted the invitation to visit our school. This was our opportunity to ask the Minister of Immigration, a figure with significant influence over NZ’s policy on refugees, any questions we pleased!

The timing of our meeting was also very opportune: we met with the Minister just after his announcement of the quota increase to just 1000 refugees.  Amnesty was holding vigils all around the country including leaving shoes outside parliament, and we were keen to express the necessity of further action.  When we met with him, the Minister expressed sympathy with Amnesty’s calls to ‘double the quota’, calling the current refugee crisis the ‘largest mass movement of people during global peacetime’. However, he said the issue was one of ‘quality rather than quantity’ and that New Zealand risked adversely affecting current high standard service it provides for refugees if it were to increase the quota.

From Amnesty's perspective, New Zealand does have a well regarded system of resettlement here. With the rebuild and the resettlement strategy solidly in place to track progress, the Organisation believes that New Zealand is actually in a very strong position to be scaling up to ensure more people can find safety here rather than unsafe situations without access to education, healthcare, food and work. Questions asked by the students included the cost of resettling refugees, the minister’s opinion on Germany’s response, employment prospects for refugees, and how diversity could benefit New Zealand.  

"It was incredibly rewarding to spread awareness of an issue we care so strongly about, and the evening was both fun and informative."

That evening, we held our ‘World Refugee Day Event’, where we screened the documentary ‘Mary Meets Mohammed’ and  heard journalist Steve Addison speak about his experiences visiting refugee camps in Jordan and publicising the plight of refugees worldwide. It was incredibly rewarding to spread awareness of an issue we care so strongly about, and the evening was both fun and informative.

Over the coming months, our group will continue to monitor the status of NZ’s quota and refugees worldwide. We've heard from the staff at Amnesty that it was the voices of everyday people like ourselves that really made the difference with getting the first increase in the quota in 29 years and with mass migration of people arguably the biggest problem currently facing our world, we must maintain the pressure on our Government to do more.

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