THE announcement that Invercargill has been selected as a refugee settlement location has not been welcomed by some. A section of the community has spoken out via social media opposing the decision, citing concerns about the lack of available housing and employment opportunities in the city. Southland Express reporter Petrina Wright talked to community leaders to gain a better understanding of the issue.
“Where is the compassion?” Southland Multicultural Council interim president Jasmine Campbell asks.
The people of Invercargill should welcome the refugees with open arms.
“We don’t know how much they have suffered. For them, it will be peace of mind [to live in Invercargill] and their kids will be safe.”
Invercargill is the seventh location in New Zealand where refugees are being settled. The other regions are the Auckland region, Waikato, Manawatu, Wellington region, Nelson and Dunedin.
The number of refugees relocating to Invercargill has not yet been finalised. The first group is expected to arrive this year.
Immigration New Zealand general manager Steve McGill said an extra settlement location was needed in part because the refugee quota had increased.
The country’s annual refugee quota will increase from 750 to 1000 places from April 1 next year.
Christchurch, New Plymouth, Rotorua and Tauranga had also been considered, but Mr McGill said Invercargill was chosen because of the broad range of employment opportunities in the area.
“Invercargill also has a strong set of services and is a well-connected city where a number of government agencies have a presence.
“Suitable housing is available and there is excellent support from the community.”
Invercargill MP Sarah Dowie said Invercargill ticked all the boxes for becoming a settlement location.
“We have consistently low unemployment and a standard of living which is second to none, including excellent support services for our most vulnerable,” she said.
“Southlanders are notoriously generous and welcoming people, and I look forward to seeing the diversity of Invercargill increase.”
Southland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Sheree Carey said the Southland Regional Development Strategy (SoRDS) goal to increase the region’s population by 10,000 by 2025 could not be reached without people from other regions and countries coming to the province.
“Southlanders got behind the initiative and supported this goal. However, when it was announced that we’ll get a seventh share of the 1000 refugees coming to New Zealand, people on social media went into a panic,” she said.
“The sky isn’t falling, boat loads of people won’t just turn up in Bluff with nowhere to live. If this is the reaction, how are people going to react if we hit the 10,000-goal?
“As in Dunedin and other centres, it will be a well-managed transition. We need to trust that the policy-makers will be on board to ensure that systems are well set up to support and sustain people who choose to join our community.”
SoRDS governance group chairman Tom Campbell said the concern was more about the lack of consultation with the community before the announcement.
“Fundamentally, Southlanders are warm-hearted people. Once [everyone] gets over the initial shock [the refugees] will be welcomed to Southland, and they will be good citizens.”
Dunedin has welcomed about 200 refugees in seven groups since its first intake in April last year.
New Zealand Red Cross southern humanitarian services manager Sue Price said the Dunedin community had been extremely generous.
“I am quite sure Southland will be equally hospitable,” she said. “This is a great opportunity to do something practical to help this humanitarian crisis they have been seeing on their TV screens.
“They have been through a lot, but they are strong and resilient and have just gotten on with settling in to their city.”
Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said the refugees were settling in well and there had not been any major issues.
“They are a long-term benefit to a supportive community.”
In response to the negative comments on social media, Mr Cull said those who did not want Muslims in their city or were concerned the refugees may be potential terrorists were “anti-Islamic bigots” who needed to “open their eyes and grow up”.
The refugees were put through an extremely rigorous vetting process, and most of the refugees were families, he said.
Southland Welcomes You video message
Southland Chamber of Commerce president Carla Forbes gives Southland businessman Kris MacLellan, of Kris Mac Coaching, direction during the filming of a Southland Welcomes You video message by cameraman Dwayne Carey, of Dwayne Carey Video Works, last week. Chamber of Commerce chief executive Sheree Carey said the chamber had produced three positive video messages for social media to try and negate the negative comments which were appearing on social media following the announcement Invercargill had been selected as a refugee resettlement location. The videos feature members of the community welcoming the refugees in a bid to show there are many people in the region excited about having the refugees come and live in the city. Another three video messages would be produced by the chamber in the next few weeks, she said.
To see the video messages click here.