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Call to reinstate refugee study grants

Wellington based Multicultural Learning & Support Services (MCLaSS) has appealed to the Government to the reconsider its decision to stop study grants given to refugees from the end of the year, saying that the move will curtail their ability to become gainfully employed.

The grants have helped scores of refugees to become proficient in English language and other subjects to enable them to pursue their higher education in 12 universities and technical institutes recognised for the purpose.

An official of MLSS said most refugees would not be able to afford the fees (about $2000) for ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) study.

“The study grants are provided to senior secondary school students by their education pathway counsellors, resulting in increasing numbers taking the transition pathway and succeeding in their degree studies,” he said.

According to him, the ESOL courses enabled refugees to learn English language and oriented them towards ‘the teaching and learning culture’ in New Zealand, which would be different from their home country.

Helpful Language Course

Mohammed Ali Amiri, a refugee from Afghanistan, described the ESOL course as useful and practical.

A young man forced to flee for his life from his home in Afghanistan, and then survive the horrors of the infamous Tampa Affair and three years of “hell” in a refugee camp in Nauru before reaching New Zealand, is taking on a new challenge.

He said the refugee study grant helped him to attend a language, writing and reading skills course at Massey University, followed by a foundation studies course at Victoria University.

“These studies would help me to obtain a degree. Many refugees like me have gone on to study subjects such as biomedicine, computer engineering, civil engineering, sociology, health science, pharmacy, nursing or accountancy.”

Mr Amiri had no knowledge of computers until he arrived in New Zealand. He is now learning Photoshop, HTML and JavaScript, and is considering a degree in network engineering.

“The study grant has been important to me and a lot of other people. Young refugees, who are given the chance of education and learning about the culture, become useful persons in society,” he said.

Mr Amiri said many teenagers who are not proficient in written and spoken English will not be able to cope with university curriculum.

“The study grant has helped refugee community gain not only knowledge of English but also of New Zealand.

Future Leaders

MCLaSS ESOL assessment specialist Judi McCallum said people like Mr Amiri are the future leaders of their communities in New Zealand.

“The health and capacity of our ethnic and minority communities will be determined by this generation. Many of the older people are less competent in English and hence find life in New Zealand a challenge.

“The younger generation is the first with the ability to get up to speed and take up these opportunities. Everyone wants a more skilled workforce, and our ethnic communities need well-qualified people to build their capacity. By scrapping the refugee study grant we are ensuring this critical group in our society will not reach their potential,” she said.

According to her, young refugees were at a disadvantage compared with other New Zealanders of their generation.

“Many have to work after school to supplement the family income, and are regularly called out of school to act as interpreters for their parents. They get no support for homework from parents who often speak little or no English and do not understand the New Zealand education system,” she said.

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