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UC research giving voice to marginalised refugee groups

04 July 2022

#EFMDEQUIS reaccreditation International data shows that 89.3 million people are forcibly displaced worldwide, which is the highest number the world has seen to date. Despite this huge number, there is little research into their economic integration, and University of Canterbury researchers are determined to work with the refugee community of Aotearoa New Zealand to fill the gap.


University of Canterbury Senior Lecturer in the UC Business School, Dr Nadeera Ranabahu, is leading research with Associate Professor Herb de Vries (left) and refugee researcher Dr Zhiyan Basharati (right).

When University of Canterbury (UC) Business School researchers Senior Lecturer Dr Nadeera Ranabahu and Associate Professor Herb de Vries connected with refugee researcher and UC PhD graduate Dr Zhiyan Basharati in 2018, they were among the very few people researching the self-employment of refugees in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Now, having published two book chapters, and with more on the way, they are growing knowledge of this marginalised and diverse group of people.

Sustainable Development Goals 10 - Reduced Inequalities Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 10 - Reduced Inequalities

Dr Ranabahu says Dr Basharati has been a key player in opening the door to the refugee community in Aotearoa New Zealand to begin primary research.

“This work wouldn’t be possible if we hadn’t worked alongside Zhiyan,” she says. “Because of her involvement we have been able to gather primary data by interviewing refugees who are on an entrepreneurial journey, in an environment where they feel safe to share their experiences with us.

“It’s been a privilege to hear their stories firsthand and observe how the adversity they’ve overcome has shaped them into the entrepreneurs they are today,” Dr Ranabahu says.

Dr Basharati’s support for the refugee community in Aotearoa New Zealand stems from being a refugee herself; spending her childhood in a Kurdish refugee camp. She is pleased to be involved in the research led by Dr Ranabahu, as she believes scientific evidence is essential for alleviating problems faced by refugees.

“Nadeera is leading academic research that focuses on understanding the self-employment and employment-related journeys of refugees, which are areas that have been lacking in the refugee field,” Dr Basharati says.

“My hope is it will contribute to more effective support for existing refugees and a more seamless transition for incoming refugees from the trauma of their past to full integration in the New Zealand community.”

Dr Basharati is involved in a review of New Zealand’s Refugee Resettlement Strategy led by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and says this research will inform recommendations made during the review.

“Our recommendations will go directly to the Minister of Immigration, which may catalyse the adoption of more effective solutions in central government policy. I’m pleased to have academic research to back up recommendations and I’m certain that Nadeera and Herb’s research will make an ongoing difference for refugees in Aotearoa New Zealand, this is just the beginning,” she says.

The group decided to start by investigating the entrepreneurial journey of refugees, with their book chapters, “From Taking Flight to Putting Down Roots: A Narrative Perspective of the Entrepreneurial Journey of a Refugee” and “The Economic Integration of Women Refugee Entrepreneurs in New Zealand”, as well as soon-to-be-published journal article, Refugee Self-Employment: How Resettlement Journeys Shape Entrepreneurial Behavioural Attributes.

In 2021, the research team expanded their focus to include all employment and unemployment issues affecting refugees in Aotearoa New Zealand.  Dr Ranabahu hopes to continue working alongside the refugee community in Aotearoa New Zealand to build and grow their research, to understand the diverse range of refugee experiences beyond entrepreneurship. 

“To date our research has focused on entrepreneurship, and our forthcoming research will focus on both refugee self-employment and employment in general,” Dr Ranabahu says. “Our role is to develop the understanding on how they are rebuilding their lives and normalise refugee integration and support. We also want to highlight contributions refugees make to society as they join our community.”

It’s stories like this that reflect the University of Canterbury Business School’s meaningful research, empowered students, and quality education, which are all strengths that have led to EQUIS reaccreditation. Explore all that’s on offer when you study or engage with the triple crown accredited UC Business School here – the University of Canterbury school that’s in the business of making a difference.

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