Recent refugee groups

Learn about the recent refugee groups arriving in New Zealand.

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  • All Early Learning Services
  • Boards
  • Principals and Tumuaki
  • Tertiary Education Organisations

For more information, access the link below to contact the Senior Advisor Refugee and Migrant Support in your local Ministry of Education office. 


These families arrive as quota refugees, asylum seekers and family reunification settlers. They have been living in refugee camps for many years in various countries such as Pakistan or India. The lengthy period of war at home means children will usually have had no formal education.


The Bhutanese refugees have lived in refugee camps in Nepal since the early 1990s, under the protection of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). While these refugees are originally from Bhutan, ethnically they are all Nepalese and are descendants of Nepalese people who have been migrating to Bhutan since the late 19th century. In Bhutan, they are known as Lhotshampas (which loosely translates as ‘southerners’, as the Nepalese in Bhutan live in the south). The majority of Lhotshampas speak Nepali and are followers of the Hindu religion.


Colombian refugees have come from Ecuador, where they lived in difficult circumstances. They speak Spanish and their English is very limited. They are all Catholic. The majority of the Colombian refugees have been subjected to a fairly high degree of trauma. Almost all have lost family members or have personally suffered severe abuse as a result of confrontations between paramilitary forces in Colombia.


The majority of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo fled between 2002 and 2005 due to persecution on the basis of their ethnicity and gender. The main languages spoken are Swahili, French, English, Luganda and Lingala.


Three main ethnic groups have settled in New Zealand: Amhara, Oromo and Tigrey. Many families have sought refuge in the Sudan where some of the children have had education in Arabic. Many are not literate in their mother tongue.


The three main refugee groups from Iraq are Assyrians, Kurds and Arabs. Assyrians are Christian, the Kurds are Muslim, and the Arabs are also predominantly Muslim. Assyrian students may not have had the opportunity to develop literacy skills in their own language. If they have had education, it probably will have been in Arabic. Some children will have had some schooling in countries of asylum such as Syria, Jordan and Turkey.


The most recent arrivals are Burman, Mon and Karen from Myanmar. They have left their country as political refugees and have been living in refugee camps in Thailand. Some of the children have had education in the Thai language.


Somali refugees have arrived in New Zealand at various times since 1993. Almost all are Muslim. The majority of children lived in Kenya, Ethiopia and other nearby countries in refugee camps for most of their lives so will have had no formal schooling.


These families are mostly South Sudanese Christians of Dinka and Nuer ethnicities. As well as their own languages, people speak and are literate in Arabic. The children will have had very little formal education in the refugee camps in asylum countries such as Kenya.


Syrian refugees have come to the world attention following the Syrian civil war which started in 2011. Since then, millions of Syrians have become internally displaced and many have sought refuge in the neighbouring countries of Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Their main language is Arabic. Many of the children arriving in New Zealand from refugee camps in Lebanon have had little or no schooling.

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