Welcome . . . Rosie Knoppel, of the Aoraki Migrant Centre, expects the organisation will be involved with resettlement of refugees starting next year, but said the group had also backed the Amnesty International petition to make the refugee sponsorship scheme – that had been piloted by four groups, including Gleniti Baptist Church – permanent. PHOTO: GRETA YEOMAN

by Greta Yeoman

Timaru will become an official refugee resettlement location in March next year.

Gleniti Baptist minister Mark Pavelka. PHOTO: GRETA YEOMAN

While the town had already welcomed a former refugee family from Syria last year, under a community sponsorship pilot scheme, next year’s arrivals will be the first in an ongoing resettlement scheme to the town, the Government announced last week.

The first group, expected to be about 30 people, will arrive in March 2020.

Gleniti Baptist Church pastor Mark Pavelka said the church’s involvement in the pilot programme of community sponsorship had been a “very positive experience” for all involved.

Hayat Shawish, Mohammed Al Quattan and their 1-year-old son, Zuheir Al Quattan, arrived in July.


The other new locations alongside Timaru are Whanganui and Blenheim, which will welcome refugees from March 2020, and Masterton and Levin, which will join in resettlement from May next year.

Another yet-unnamed location will bring the total of new locations to six and the number of resettlement areas to 14.

The additional locations will come into place just before New Zealand’s refugee quota increases to 1500 people per year from July 2020.

At present, the country’s quota is1000 places each year.

Between 2016 and July 2018, New Zealand’s quota was for 750 annual resettlement places plus 250 places specifically for Syrian refugees.

The refugee quota was permanently increased to 1000 places in July last year, just two months before the increase to 1500 was announced.


The programme is in addition to the standard annual refugee quota and resettlement schemes.

Mr Pavelka said it had been a “win-win” situation for both the congregation and the family.

“They have been supported and are integrating quickly into their new life in Timaru and we have broadened our understanding of what far too many in our world are suffering today.”

The Government is still discussing the future of the community sponsorship programme and received a petition from Amnesty International in November last year, which included more than 10,000 signatures, calling to make the scheme permanent.

Aoraki Migrant Centre manager Rosie Knoppel, who had also supported the petition, said she had seen the benefits of community integration for the Syrian family now living in Timaru.

“[The church] has done an amazing job.”

She said community integration was important because while children often adapted well to their new lives due to school connections, adults sometimes struggled to connect in new communities, particularly due to language or cultural barriers.

While Ms Knoppel said she did have concerns about the potential isolation for new families arriving in the town, as well as job prospects, she hoped the Timaru community would get behind the new arrivals.

“People [seem] to be open to the idea.”

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway – speaking at the announcement of the new locations – said a number of factors, including the housing and employment situations, had been considered when the new locations were selected to ensure they had the capacity to support former refugees.

Having more locations would provide support when the country’s refugee quota was increased to 1500 places in July next year, he said.

Kate Elsen, photo by Clive Callow

Kate Elsen, of Syria’s Forgotten Families South Canterbury, said the town was an “ideal-sized” location for resettlement, with proximity to larger cities both north and south.

She was also excited about the potential for more diversity in Timaru and believed the town’s organisations would be well-prepared to support former refugees after years of helping migrants settle here.

“I am confident that all of the organisations that each family will come in to contact with as they settle in South Canterbury have been well prepared.”

It is not yet known where the refugees who will settle in Timaru will be from.


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