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Warm welcome....Although the weather is frosty and cold, the 16 Syrian refugees arriving in Timaru for a new life this week will receive a warm welcome. Helping to make this happen are, from left, Fiona Jackson, refugee settlement manager; Mohammed Alziq, cross cultural worker; Jill de Joux refugee volunteer co-ordinator and Radwa Zaki, refugee volunteer co-ordinator. PHOTO: CHRIS TOBIN

by Chris Tobin

Two Syrian refugee families will arrive in Timaru this week to start life as “new Kiwis”.

“They are very much looking forward to it,” Presbyterian Support South Canterbury refugee settlement manager Fiona Jackson said.

Both families are made up of mum, dad and six children.

The children range in age from one and a-half up to 19 years of age.

“I met with the families on June 4 and shared with them photos of Timaru and our district,” Mrs Jackson said.

“The families are very friendly and have already been learning some English.”

The refugees had been expected to arrive in Timaru sooner but Covid-19 caused delays.

“They arrived in New Zealand in mid-March just before the national lockdown, staying at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre in Auckland in small bubbles during Alert Levels 4 and 3,” Mrs Jackson said.

“Once the country moved to Level 2 they began a four-week refugee reception programme to prepare them for life in New Zealand.”

Last year, Timaru was named as one of several regional centres to accept refugees after the Government said it would increase its refugee quota to 1500 individuals per year from July this year under a pilot Community Organisation Refugee Sponsorship (Cors).

In last month’s Budget the Government allocated $8million to extend Cors for a further three years.

The two families arriving this week were expected be the first of 110 individual refugees settling in Timaru over the next 12 months, although Covid-19 had created uncertainty.

“Both families were displaced from their home country of Syria for seven to eight years prior to arriving in New Zealand,” Mrs Jackson said.

“The overall process of going through refugee status determination and then the immigration visa application process before eventually arriving in New Zealand took many years.”

Presbyterian Support South Canterbury has been contracted to resettle the refugees.

“This will include helping them to register children for schools, accessing health services, orientating them to supermarkets, recreational activities, and making sure they know how to access services for assistance.”

Both families had rental properties to live in.

“Presbyterian Support South Canterbury will support them in learning how to maintain a New Zealand house, such as heating, fire safety, and connecting electricity or gas. Once they have had the opportunity to settle into their new homes they will start attending English language classes.

“They will then be provided with assistance in how to look for employment and understanding the various issues of working in New Zealand, such as employer expectations and employee rights.”

Government agencies, non-government organisations and community groups were assisting with the resettlement, she said.

“We have also been very fortunate to engage 21 refugee support volunteers who will assist the refugee settlement services team in providing support to the families.”

Mrs Jackson said there had been an excellent response from Timaru.

“The former refugees will arrive with minimal personal possessions, so we are incredibly grateful to the wider Timaru community for opening their hearts and sharing some of what they have to help make the transition for these families more comfortable.”