Could Ashburton be New Zealand’s next refugee settlement community

Late last year, the Government announced that it is increasing its refugee quota from 1000 people to 1500 people annually by 2020. With more people coming to New Zealand to settle, more regions are being selected to take in these people who, for a range of reasons, are no longer safe to stay in their home countries. Importantly for our corner of New Zealand, Ashburton could be on that resettlement list.

Eight regions throughout the country have already welcomed refugees, including Auckland, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill. With the announcement of an increase in the refugee quota, those settlement regions have grown to include Timaru, Blenheim, Levin, Masterton and Whanganui. There is still one more area to be added, and perhaps that could be Ashburton.

We are a very lucky community, where opportunities, access to services, employment and recreational activities make for a wonderful way of life. The data on our available housing and employment is promising, with several hundred homes on the market, just under 50 houses to rent, and a range of employment opportunities advertised across many job sectors.

We already know from a recent report prepared by New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) that Ashburton District is the 6th most desired for business and 12th most desired for living. I believe that perhaps being a settlement community for refugees could be a good opportunity for our district, where we could enjoy economic benefits and see increased diversity in our community.

The Welcoming Communities pilot programme underway here is already seeing wonderful community-driven initiatives happening that are making our district a more welcoming place for newcomers. Accepting refugees would certainly help signify our standing as a welcoming, connected and hospitable place for people to live. Those Welcoming Communities initiatives would also put us in good stead to help those refugees feel more settled.

For those unsure what a refugee is, they are people who cannot return to their home country because they fear they will be persecuted for their religion, race, nationality, membership to a particular group, or for their political opinion. These are fears that, on the whole, are not expressed here in New Zealand, and that makes us so fortunate. I cannot imagine what it must be like to feel in danger living in your own country because of those characteristics or issues.

New Zealand’s involvement in assisting refugees is certainly not new. As a nation, we have been accepting refugees for resettlement since the end of World War II. New Zealand has an obligation under various international laws and conventions to protect refugees that are accepted. According to Immigration New Zealand, all those selected for resettlement under the Government’s quota programme undergo comprehensive on and off-shore screening and assessment processes focusing on credibility, security, risk and settlement. They also need to meet health requirements.

It is my understanding that this isn’t the first time that Ashburton has welcomed refugees; this happened in the late 1970s/early 1980s. It is also worth remembering that New Zealand is a nation built on immigrants and people arriving on our shores from distance places, whether your ancestors came to Aotearoa many hundreds of years ago, in the last one or two centuries or if you are a new arrival yourself.

Ultimately, the decision on which regions will become settlement communities is up to the Central Government. I, like many will be following this issue very intently, and am supportive of Ashburton’s consideration to be a settlement community. I look forward to seeing how this matter unfolds.

Page reviewed: 06 Mar 2019 11:35am