Former refugee Green Party candidate to focus on rangatahi

By Mānia Clarke-Mamanu

Golriz Ghahraman is a former refugee and UN human rights lawyer who is standing for the Green Party at this year’s election.  The Auckland-based lawyer is focussed on tackling child poverty and youth rights, among other issues of significance to Māori.

Ghahraman says she is keen to use her experience as a former UN human rights lawyer to help the country's most vulnerable.

“Māori are disproportionately affected by inequality in Aotearoa.  Māori and Pasifika youth are disproportionately represented in all of the negative stats that we've got,” says Ghahraman.

Ghahraman currently works as a criminal justice lawyer and wants to address Māori youth offending, which is over-represented in New Zealand statistics.

“To me, [criminal justice] is the ambulance at the bottom of the hill," says Gaharaman, "We need to take notice of the youth justice stats that we've got because they're indicative of where we are failing these young people in other areas- whether that's education, health or poverty across the board.

"We need to stop looking at the criminal justice system as something that's a solution...We need to look at how people are faring in education, or how we're ensuring that these kids are fed.  Where we've introduced tikanga into the criminal justice system, with our Rangatahi Courts for example, it's been incredibly successful...I think we can do that in other policy."  

Ghahraman announced last week that she's running as a Green Party list member and has already received a positive response from the community.

One message of support from a Māori woman particularly touched Ghahraman.

“Yeah, that still gives me chills.  I've received a few messages from Māori, but that particular one was about welcoming me to her ancestral lands because I spoke to issues that she felt she cared about.  It was incredibly touching.”

If ranked high enough on the Party List Golriz will become New Zealand's first refugee MP in parliament.

"I think as a refugee I have a particular affinity for Māori," says Ghahraman, "The thing to remember with asylum seekers and refugees is we're often escaping the same imperialism that Māori have suffered.

"In terms of being a Middle Eastern refugee, we suffer wars that are aimed at alienating us from our land and our resources.  I feel incredibly grateful to Māori for giving my family refuge here."

As a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention New Zealand currently accepts 750 refugees per year.  Last year, the government announced an increase to 1,000 individuals from 2018.

New Zealand is currently ranked 87th in the world for refugee resettlement and resettles five times fewer refugees per capita than Australia.

The global refugee crisis now affects more than 60 million individuals who are displaced from their homelands around the globe.