An upcoming forum on the refugee experience in New Zealand offers compelling historic and contemporary perspectives on how New Zealand has responded to and treated refugees.

It will include two extraordinary stories of survival – one from a Holocaust refugee in the 1950s and one from a refugee from war torn Eritrea in 2008.

Inge Woolf came to New Zealand from Europe as a child refugee of the Holocaust, while Ibrahim Omer
came from Eritrea.

Both grew up surrounded by war and conflict as children, but are now strong peace advocates. And both have subsequently made significant contributions to New Zealand life and society

Ibrahim, who was a child soldier at 15, was smuggled across the Sudanese border.

He tells of soldiers being told to shoot to kill if someone crossed the border. “I decided then and there, I wanted to live, or die trying.”

The forum will be at the National Library of New Zealand in Wellington on Tuesday 4 December from 5:30-7pm and will be moderated by journalist and refugee advocate Tracey Barnett.

It is part of the Social Justice Speakers series being held in conjunction with the Children’s Holocaust Memorial Exhibition.

Holocaust Centre of New Zealand deputy chair Dianne Davis says the forum is especially relevant today.

“How we respond to refugee crises on our doorstep such as Nauru and Manus will say a lot about the New Zealand character and soul.

“Being a refugee stays with someone forever; on Nauru and Manus you have deeply traumatised people in desperate need of medical and psychological care.

“We should not demonise those seeking refuge within our region, but commit to policies based on genuine compassion and mutual responsibility.”

For Holocaust refugee, Inge Woolf, the situation on Nauru and Manus is clear.

“I’m beyond words thinking how a government in this day and age can treat people like this, children in particular. I just think how damaged those children must be, living in those conditions.

“By contrast, New Zealand has been really effective working with our refugee communities to ensure they become valuable citizens.”