In early 2019 Masterton was announced as one of the new resettlement locations for refugees along with Whanganui, Levin, Blenheim and Timaru. We’re pleased to announce that one year from now, in mid-2020, our first families will begin to join the community.
We don’t know yet where these families will come from or what sort of journey they have had to endure, but we look forward to welcoming them into our town. What a fantastic thing to be able to say our community is giving a new home to families who have had to flee theirs.
In the related resources sidebar you can find factsheets prepared by the government about our legal obligations under the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees and the commitments New Zealand has made to help resettle refugees. In the video below, Masterton local Jorge Sandoval talks about his journey as a political refugee in the 70s and how he thinks we can help our newest residents settle in.
What is a refugee? And why are they coming here?
A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. Currently, more than 65 million people are displaced around the world, the highest number since the Second World War. Once they flee people are displaced for an average of 17 years and New Zealand has a proud history, going back over 70 years, with refugee settlement.
It is also important that we meet our legal and humanitarian obligations under the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees.
Who are they and where are they coming from?
At the moment we do not know who our new community members will be, nor where they will have come from or what kind of trauma they may have experienced. We do know that we will welcome around 3-5 families, totalling around 10 people in the first intake.
Refugees are vulnerable, having lost their assets and livelihoods, and without the ability to plan their lives. They need help regaining their voice, becoming self-reliant and rebuilding their lives.
How can I help them settle in?
Most refugees will feel isolated when they are relocated to a new country where the language and customs are unfamiliar to them. Even small gestures of friendship can mean a great deal. Offering ways that they can take part in the community through work and volunteering are valuable, as are invitations to events, dinner or even just stopping for a chat. As you can hear in the video of Jorge Sandoval, integrating and socialising with the local community is one of the key ways we can help them feel welcome and settled.
What about housing? There is already a shortage in Masterton
The Ministry of Social Development assesses the housing needs of the refugees and none are relocated to a resettlement location until housing is confirmed.
Accommodation availability is one of the most important things the Government has considered when deciding on resettlement locations.
It’s important to remember we are talking about a small number of refugees – perhaps three to five families in the first intake. With the new housing developments in the area we are confident we will be able to work with the government to ensure there is housing stock available for these families without putting pressure on our housing market.
Won’t more refugees take jobs from people already in Masterton?
Masterton’s population has been growing steadily since 2014 with the addition of 77 people in the year to September 2018. We are talking about adding around 10 refugees to that number.
Alongside population growth our unemployment rate has decreased – these numbers indicate there’s no reason to be concerned about locals losing jobs. Refugees tend to bring new skills that complement the existing workforce and are more likely to be business owners and entrepreneurs which in turn creates jobs.
Why has Masterton been chosen?
The Government’s selection process includes considering the availability of housing, employment opportunities and support services available in communities.
It’s a fantastic vote of confidence that Masterton has been through the selection process and considered suitable to welcome refugees into our community.
Why is this a good thing? We already have people saying there’s not enough work and house prices are skyrocketing.
There are two parts to this answer;
- Firstly, we can be among leaders in New Zealand doing the right thing. The Government’s strategy is to have multiple resettlement locations so no one region is receiving a large number of refugees. What a fantastic thing to be able to say our community to giving a home to families that most need it.
- Secondly, there’s a misperception that refugees are a burden on communities. In many cases, refugees continue on to be entrepreneurs and benefit local economies. It also supports vibrancy and diversity in our communities
What does community preparedness mean?
Any community that welcomes refuges needs to have certain services to support those refuges. Communities preparedness refers to a thorough process undertaken collaboratively with Central and local government and social agencies.
New Zealand has been settling refugees since 1987; Masterton has great examples to learn from with case studies around the countries where is has been done.