Police called to calm tensions at Christchurch refugee event

Tensions over the way a Canterbury refugee organisation is run erupted at the weekend.

About a dozen protestors from the city’s Somali, Ethiopian, and Afghan communities disrupted the World Refugee Day event at Hagley College on Saturday afternoon.

The dispute centres on the exclusion of some people from membership of the Canterbury Refugee Resettlement and Resource Centre (CRRRC).

Muslim Association of Canterbury president Mahmed Jama said the CRRRC had excluded people for more than 10 years and was not representative of the community it claimed to serve.

”We are fighting for the real refugees,” he said.

But the CRRC leadership described those excluded as “troublemakers”.

Mahmed Jama, right, was amongst the protesters who ambushed Saturday’s World Refugee Day event.

Guests at Saturday’s event, including Labour MP for Wigram and Minister of Housing Megan Woods, were taken by surprise when Jama tried to address the crowd with a loud hailer.

Some guests tried to shout him down before Woods approached Jama to hear his concerns and defuse the conflict.

John Kirk-Anderson/Stuff
Canterbury Refugee Resettlement and Resource Centre chairman Ahmed Tani, right, with Labour Wigram MP Megan Woods at World Refugee Day.

CRRRC chairman Ahmed Tani said he felt personally insulted by the group’s tactics and denied their allegations, saying it was “tribal”, “jealousy” and “lies”.

A spokesman for the group unhappy with CRRRC, Abdigani Ali, said they sought legal opinion and filed a complaint to Charities Services but the agency decided not to open an investigation.

Charities Services chief executive Natasha Weight wrote to the group in June in support of the decision, saying the issues raised were “relatively minor” and did not meet the threshold for an investigation.

”There is nothing in the information provided to suggest serious or deliberate non-compliance with the provisions of the [Charities] Act,” she wrote.

Weight said the agency would write to the organisation to raise the issues of governance and reporting, and would work with it to “ensure that it understands its obligations”.

John Kirk-Anderson/Stuff
Christchurch Ethiopian Association chairman Haileslassie Berhe was amongst protesters.

Ali said they had filed a complaint over the Department of Internal Affairs’ handling of the matter with the Ombudsman.

Tani said the centre’s constitution stated membership was a board decision, and he would not accept “troublemakers”.

He rejected the idea of mediation with the disaffected group.

Another accusation was that CRRRC had not used $163,000 in funding from Government agencies – including from Crown grants, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and the Ministry of Children – to support the refugee community.

Tani laughed at this suggestion.

“We cannot accept a single payment without a receipt.”

He said travel costs of $29,280 and $13,026 (overseas) for the 2019 financial year listed in a performance report by the organisation were for trips to Auckland and Wellington for advocacy work and to attend regional forums.

John Kirk-Anderson/Stuff
Abdigani Ali says he and others want more transparency about the CRRRC’s activities.

The centre employed six staff members to help refugees access the support they needed and advocate on their behalf.

“We help migrants and refugees. We help them with housing, immigration issues, work and income, employment issues.”

A woman who was a guest at the event said she was “furious” with the protesters.

“These are people from all different ethnic groups who have come together, and they have the right to celebrate this day in a safe way.”

Christchurch stopped receiving refugees for eight years following the 2011 earthquakes but was reinstated as a resettlement option in March last year.

This month, New Zealand’s annual quota for refugees was lifted from 1000 to 1500.

Police confirmed they were at the Hagley College event but only to calm tensions.

Police called to calm tensions at Christchurch refugee event