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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Refugee in bid for a seat in the New Zealand Parliament

She was an Iranian refugee who found a haven in New Zealand.  She became a world class barrister.  And now she hopes to be elected to a seat in parliament.

It's a heartwarming success story.

From the New Zealand Herald

A Green Party candidate is aiming to be the first refugee to become an MP in New Zealand.

Auckland barrister Golriz Ghahraman, originally from Iran, has been confirmed as a candidate for the general election.

She says electing a refugee to Parliament would send a strong message during a global refugee crisis and at a time of rising anti-refugee and immigrant sentiment.

"It would be historic for New Zealand and I think it will mean something at this particular moment in a time when we are seeing one of the worst humanitarian disasters in a lifetime in the Middle East," Ghahraman said.

"To say that someone fleeing that part of the world could actually be so accepted, that she could take part in a democratic society, would be really meaningful.

"Especially with the rhetoric of Donald Trump and Brexit, I got to the point where I thought some of us who are witnessing this actually need to put our hands up and be at the table in the higher levels of governance."

The Dominion Post gives more details.

Originally from the Shia holy city of Mashhad in north-eastern Iran, near the Afghanistan border, Golriz's family fled in 1990, when she was aged nine.  They headed for Malaysia, and from there bought tickets to Fiji, a country that did not demand a visa.  The flight included a stopover in Auckland, where the family had relatives who had won asylum in New Zealand.  Gambling that they might find the same charity, they reported that they were political refugees, and waited to see what would happen.

"It was amazing," said Ghahraman. "They were much more concerned if we had fruit products on us.  The next question was 'are you hungry and do you have somewhere to go?'"

And so they settled.  Her father was Shia and an agricultural engineer, and her mother was a Kurdish Sunni child psychologist who had never practised, because she refused to take the Islamic exams or wear Islamic dress, so religion played little part in Golriz' upbringing..  Like many migrants, the couple set up a restaurant, and concentrated on a good education for their offspring.  Golriz went to Auckland Girls' Grammar and Auckland University, where she studied history and law.  She said she never suffered from racial discrimination, and only felt vulnerable because the family was poor.

After graduating she worked for the United Nations in Rwanda and what used to be Yugoslavia.  After getting her masters degree in International Human Rights Law at Oxford University she also worked on the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Cambodia.

After returning to New Zealand in 2012, she became an advocate for family caring for profoundly disabled relatives.  And now she has entered the world of politics.

"I am a political animal," she said. "I think you have to try all the different routes to try and bring about change."

Convinced to join the Greens by a former flatmate, she has worked as the party's Auckland convenor and sat on its national executive. She now wants to run in an Auckland seat, possibly Kelston, New Lynn or Te Atatu.

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