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Welcome . . . Two girls walk through Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan. PHOTO: STEVE ADDISON

by Greta Yeoman

A Timaru minister involved in refugee resettlement has backed calls to make the community sponsorship scheme permanent.

Gleniti Baptist pastor Mark Pavelka, speaking to The Courier last week, said the pilot of the scheme – which the church was involved in – had been successful so far.

A 10,000-signature petition by Amnesty International to keep the scheme was presented to Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway at Parliament last week.

Mr Pavelka said Hayat Shawish, Mohammed Al Quattan and 1-year-old son Zuheir Al Qattan, whom the church is supporting, were enjoying life in Timaru since arriving in July.

“They are really settling in well.”

They had been taking English lessons through Ara, and Mohammed had been for a job interview at the Pareora freezing works, Mr Pavelka said.

Gleniti Baptist minister Mark Pavelka. PHOTO: GRETA YEOMAN

The Timaru community had been really welcoming to the family, and Aoraki Migrant Centre manager Rosie Knoppel had been “really great”, he said.

Mr Pavelka hoped the scheme would continue and that the church would be able to sponsor other families.

He said meeting two Afghani refugees in a detention centre in Indonesia had inspired his interest in the sponsorship scheme.

If the scheme was made permanent, he hoped the sponsorship criteria would expand beyond Syrian refugees, so the church would be able to sponsor the two Afghani men to come to Timaru.

“Hopefully it will continue.”

The church was one of four groups that are part of the pilot scheme – which provides community sponsorship for a total of 25 Syrian refugees – alongside Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand in Wellington, South West Baptist Church in Christchurch and St Vincent de Paul in Nelson.

The community sponsorship scheme is separate from the main Red Cross-run resettlement scheme, which has placed refugees in Auckland, Waikato, Manawatu, Wellington, Nelson, Dunedin and Invercargill.

The groups involved in the community sponsorship scheme needed to provide for and support the families for their first two years in their new community, including finding private accommodation, helping them into employment and linking them with community groups.