Maria Noonan, CSS Community Organiser
Last year we witnessed, on our television screens and in other media reports, thousands of refugees from Africa and Syria streaming into Europe. This brought into sharp focus the plight of all refugees, including those already in camps, and many fleeing destruction of their homelands and oppressive governments. For some, the sights brought echoes of what happened in Europe at the end WW2 when a similar mass migration of peoples occurred.
Then the New Zealand Government welcomed Polish children to New Zealand as refugees. Could we do something like this again? In light of the current crisis, Cardinal John representing the Bishops’ Conference, along with the Anglican Bishops, challenged the Government to increase our refugee quota. The Bishops identified churches could collaborate together, both nationally and locally, with existing refugee agencies to welcome more refugees to Aotearoa New Zealand.
Representatives from the Archdiocese of Wellington, the Anglican Diocese of Wellington and Red Cross (CAR.) have been working together to get the collaborative responsive on underway.
At Catholic Social Services (CSS) our first steps were to learn more about the quota system for refugees, how people are chosen for the resettlement programme by the New Zealand government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, what supports are ready in place and what gaps, and to organise workshops for people to learn more.
There was a wonderful response to the three workshops hosted by the Archdiocese with over 250 participants from different denominations bringing a strong sense of generosity and desire to work together. We listened to experiences of people from Afghanistan, Myanmar and Columbia, who had come to New Zealand as refugees or asylum seekers; and we learnt about the resettlement process and roles of existing services who work with refugees in New Zealand.
Together, participants identified ways to welcome refugees into our communities. Some have since trained as volunteers for Red Cross or Language Partners. Others are working with their parishes or organisations about how they will respond to the quota refugees and to those who come to New Zealand as part of the re-settlement programme.
We are now at the action stage for parish response. The Catholic and Anglican Dioceses will work with Red Cross to provide teams of volunteers and goods to set up the homes of refugee families coming to the city at the end of February. Donations of household goods ‒ new or in good condition‒ will be needed to equip each home.
CSS will produce a list for parishes about what is needed and when and where goods can be dropped off. CSS and the Anglican Archdiocese will ask their respective parishes to provide welcoming packages for the 25 families arriving this month. We also need 80 parish volunteers to form teams to set up 25 houses throughout the city, ready to welcome the families to Wellington. On Saturday 5 March, Red Cross and families who have already re-settled will host a welcome meal. We need parish volunteers to help with this event as well as donations towards the catering. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to help.
Copies of Catholic Social Services’ booklet Refugee Resettlement in New Zealand can be downloaded from www.wn.catholic.org.nz or requested by email: email@example.com or phone Vivien at Catholic Social Services (04) 385-8642.
The Refugee Family Reunification Trust and ChangeMakers refugee forum are organisations in Wellington also supporting refugees and their families.