THE first group of refugees are set to make Invercargill home early next year.
Immigration New Zealand refugee and protection unit national manager Andrew Lockhart said it was expected about 15 Colombian refugees – four or five families – would relocate to Invercargill in March.
Mr Lockhart said Colombian refugees had been selected as the first group to settle in the city in part because of their experience in the agriculture, horticulture and the service industries, which would be a “good fit” for Invercargill’s labour market.
Refugees from other countries would be settled in Invercargill over time, he said.
Fighting between the Colombian government’s armed forces and guerrilla soldiers, paramilitaries and drug cartels had displaced millions of Colombians over the past 50 years.
Immigration New Zealand representatives were in Invercargill this week to brief Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt and city councillors about the refugee resettlement programme planned for the city. They also met Venture Southland staff to discuss employment opportunities for the refugees.
Invercargill is the seventh location in New Zealand where refugees will be settled. The other regions are Auckland region, Waikato, Manawatu, Wellington region, Nelson and Dunedin.
An extra settlement location was needed in part because New Zealand’s annual refugee quota had been increased from 750 to 1000 places.
Mr Lockhart said from next year, Invercargill would receive six intakes of refugees a year, equating to a new group of refugees every eight weeks.
Mr Shadbolt said he had reservations about refugees being settled in Invercargill.
The Government had indicated Invercargill was selected as a refugee resettlement area because the city had low unemployment levels, housing was available and government agencies had a presence here, he said.
“But I have always argued that Southlanders travel elsewhere if they can’t get work rather than go on a benefit.
“[Immigration NZ] assured us [the refugees] will be able to get jobs, but I don’t know what the future of jobs will be… and people are struggling to find rentals [in Invercargill].”
Mr Lockhart said staff would ensure the refugees had a home to go to before they were relocated to Invercargill, which would be a mix of private and state housing. The houses would be furnished before their arrival.
The Invercargill City Council will host a public meeting on Wednesday, September 13, at 7pm, at which Immigration NZ representatives will discuss the resettlement programme. The venue is still to be confirmed.