Decision to host refugees welcomed

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Timaru’s designation as a refugee resettlement location has “thrilled” local advocates.

Aoraki Settling In Group spokeswoman Kate Elsen said she hoped Gleniti Baptist Church’s sponsorship of a group of Syrian refugees would be just the beginning for South Canterbury’s involvement in supporting refugees.

“[I am] absolutely thrilled that Timaru is playing a small role.”

While the migrant support organisation umbrella group had not yet been directly involved with the refugee resettling scheme, she hoped it would be in future.

Aoraki Migrant Centre migrant support manager Rosie Knoppel said she was certain it would be a positive experience both for current residents and the new arrivals.

“I think it’s wonderful news.”

She was pleased the community-led style of the sponsorship scheme would mean the new residents were fully integrated into the Timaru community.

“[The Gleniti Baptist Church members] must be really excited.”

Mrs Elsen said watching news videos of the Syrian refugee crisis in the past had made her feel hopeless about how South Canterbury residents could help, but now the community would have a hands-on role in refugee support, the news articles had taken on a special meaning.

“This is hopefully just the beginning of what South Canterbury can do.”

Mrs Elsen said she had “real faith” in the community getting behind the new residents, who would arrive in about July.

“[I’m always pleased] how caring our community is.”

Immigration New Zealand refugee division national manager Andrew Lockhart said the criteria to be accepted as support-sponsored refugees included demonstrating the ability to read, understand and answer basic questions in English and having a minimum of three years’ work experience or a qualification with at least two years’ tertiary study.

The refugees also had to meet security, health and immigration risk assessments and not be eligible for sponsorship under any family residency sponsorship category, he said.

While the criteria stated that the refugees needed to be aged between 18 and 45 years old, an INZ spokesman clarified it was only the principal applicant that had to be in this age range and secondary applicants – such as children – could be younger.

Mr Lockhart said six applications to provide community sponsorship were received by INZ, of which five met the mandatory criteria and four – including Timaru – were accepted to be part of the pilot programme.

The initial Community Organisation Refugee Sponsorship scheme would resettle 25 refugees across the four locations – Wellington, Christchurch, Timaru and Nelson, he said.

“Depending on the size of the families, it is anticipated that around four to six families will be resettled in New Zealand as sponsored refugees under the pilot.”

The pilot scheme would focus on resettling Syrian refugees from Jordan or Lebanon, Mr Lockhart said.