by Greta Yeoman
About 50 Timaru residents gathered at a recent talk about refugee quotas.
Refugee quota increase campaigner Murdoch Stephens, of the Doing Our Bit campaign, spoke at the Timaru Bridge Club last Thursday to a diverse audience that included refugee advocates, politicians and members of the public.
Speaking as part of a nationwide tour to promote the organisation’s “Double the Quota” campaign in an election year, Mr Stephens admitted it was “unashamedly political”.
New Zealand’s refugee quota had been 750 but was increased to 1000 to accommodate 250 emergency intake places from Syria. However, the organisation wanted to double that amount to 2000.
Although Timaru had not been considered as a refugee resettlement centre, the residents had still been supportive of other cities.
“We do have a very supportive community.” – Kate Elsen
Refugee advocate Kate Elsen said she was “thrilled” by the turnout.
Ms Elsen, who is a member of refugee advocacy group Syria’s Forgotten Families South Canterbury, said South Canterbury residents had helped out when Dunedin became a resettlement location more than a year ago. Supporters had been overwhelmed by donations of items to send south.
She said the group was open to the Canadian private sponsorship alternative to the traditional government-funded quota, but it was at present focused on supporting Dunedin’s resettlement efforts and fundraising for those still in refugee camps overseas.
Mr Stephens explained the sponsorship model involved churches or other community groups supporting and funding a family or individual for the first few years in their new country.
Mrs Elsen said the group was “thrilled” to have 10 new people sign up to the group after the meeting. Another resident wanted to donate sleeping bags and other outdoor equipment to Dunedin families for school camps.
The audience had been “quite moved” by refugees’ stories and she thought the “support would be there” if the sponsorship model was proposed for the South Canterbury area.