9 Sep 2015

Nelson prepares to support refugees

11:26 am on 9 September 2015

A member of Nelson's refugee support community says talks have started about how the city might take a share of the 600 Syrian refugees expected in New Zealand over the next three years.

A refugee family from Syria waits in front of a exhibition hall at the Munich fairground that serves as makeshift shelter for migrants.

A refugee family from Syria, in Munich, Germany. New Zealand will offer 600 emergency places to Syrians over three years, and a further 150 will be brought in under the existing quota. Photo: AFP

Nelson Multicultural Council field worker Megan Ridell says it was discussed at a regular meeting on Tuesday with the Nelson office of Red Cross refugee services.

Nelson city has been taking refugees since the 1970s and was now the only centre in the South Island offering support, after the closure of Christchurch services following the quakes.

The Red Cross said Nelson took an average 75 refugees a year, or 10 percent of the country's intake.

Ms Ridell said more than 800 refugees, primarily from Asian countries, now lived in the community, but there were possibly more as families sponsored by former refugees arrived regularly under that refugee family support category.

Ms Ridell said Nelson's strong legacy with refugee support was due to the huge amount of work done by some key sectors.

"It's about the goodwill of the community and the amazing work done by the churches, people in the community and now Red Cross Refugee Services, Community Law, the Nelson Multicultural Council, Victory Community Centre, and the schools here.

"Each is really committed and we all work together really well to make sure we're doing the best we can for them," Ms Ridell said.

She said it would take time to make sure the right infrastructure was in place to support people from a new culture.

"It's a really big decision to settle people in a place where possibly there are no other people from their community here - in terms of logistics and having the interpreters available and all of those support services that are really crucial to good settlement."

Ms Ridell said that included health, housing and education support.

"These things can be planned and worked on to make sure we would be able to re-settle a new community here and I think that will happen at some stage anyway - it's just what that community will be, and doing the ground work to make sure that's successful."

Ms Ridell said Red Cross Refugee Services would now keep them in the loop but it was "very early days", as there were established Syrian communities in other re-settlement areas of the country.

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