by Greta Yeoman
Preparations are under way for the first resettlement of former refugees in Timaru next April, following a meeting between South Canterbury organisations and government departments.
Organised by Aoraki Development, the Aoraki Migrant Centre and Immigration New Zealand, last Wednesday’s meeting included about 50 people from a range of community organisations and sectors in Timaru.
Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment refugee resettlement co-ordinator Sarah Ward said the meeting illustrated that Timaru was “well set up” for resettling refugee families, but there was still work to do.
Speakers included Jarrah Cooke from the Red Cross’ Pathways to Employment programme, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education representatives, and two Canterbury former refugees who spoke about their resettlement experience.
Ms Ward said she expected the Ministry of Education would organise a hui with school principals in the coming months to discuss supporting former refugee children.
Timaru is already home for one former refugee family, who have been living in the town since July 2018.
The Syrian family – Hayat Shawish, Mohammed Al Qattan and their baby boy Zuheir – had resettled with support from Gleniti Baptist Church, under the government’s community organisation refugee sponsorship programme.
Ms Shawish said Zuheir, now 21 months, was a “favourite” at his daycare centre, where the staff were teaching him English alongside his native Arabic.
The family had been supported by church members, whose help included setting up bank accounts, sorting English lessons for Ms Shawish, and helping Mr Al Qattan get his driver’s licence.
He was now working fulltime as a halal butcher.
The future of the sponsorship scheme is expected to be known in the next few months.
At present, the country’s refugee quota is 1000 places each year, but will increase to 1500 in July 2020.
Ms Ward said INZ, Housing New Zealand and the Ministry of Social Development were working on a national refugee housing plan as part of preparations for the quota increase.
Former refugees resettled in Timaru would be housed in a mix of public housing and private rentals.
“[We] work quite creatively,” she said of housing.
This would involve working with churches and other community organisations around housing options, she said.
Timaru, Whanganui and Blenheim will resettle families from April 2020, Masterton and Levin from June 2020, and Ashburton from August 2020, bringing the total of resettlement areas to 14.
The organisation leading refugee resettlement in these new locations is expected to be announced by October.
Ms Ward said initial plans were to resettle former refugees in Timaru itself, but there was the potential to expand locations to the wider district.