Ratonga Whakatau Taurewa

Refugee Settlement Service

Refugee families arriving in New Zealand will soon call Mid Canterbury home. The Refugee Settlement Service is a collaboration between Safer Mid Canterbury and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

It has been set up to welcome families who have had to flee their countries and seek a safe and welcoming place to resettle. Ashburton, alongside Timaru and some centres in the North Island, was chosen for its housing availability, low unemployment, and close proximity to refugee communities in Christchurch.


What will the service look like in Mid Canterbury?

Refugee Settlement support team leader, Kathy Harrington-Watt, says two families will arrive every five weeks, resulting in approximately 110 new people in the district over a 12-month period.

Half of the refugees will be children, with either both parents, one parent, or grandparents. “Some may be able to speak English and others may not. Some are very excited and others are very scared,” Kathy says. “As you can imagine, their lives have been unsettled for a very long time with many adjustments over the years. On average, these people have been refugees, or without a home, for 16 years.”


What is the process for settling the former refugees in Ashburton?

Five weeks before the refugees are due to arrive in Ashburton, they will be housed in the Mangere Refugee Centre in Auckland. Health assessments take place both offshore before they come to New Zealand and are then followed up at the Mangere Refugee Centre. Here, they also attend language classes and school; learn about New Zealand culture, laws and social life; and mix with other refugees settling in New Zealand. From this point, background information about the families will be provided to Safer Mid Canterbury so they can start organising employment, housing and schooling options.


What do we know about the families?

Prior to the refugees arrival to Ashburton, we will receive background information. Kathy says it is important to note that when the people arrive, they will be given permanent residency. This means the same benefits and expectations, as any other New Zealander, apply to their new lives. “They need access to the same things, but they will get extra support for the first 12 months,” she says. “They have the same employment opportunities and financial support available to them.”


What services will be provided to the former refugees?

When the families arrive in Ashburton, a house will be ready for them. Support will be provided through the Refugee Settlement Support Team. Roles within the organisation, include Kathy’s full-time position; a social/youth caseworker; a housing caseworker; a cultural navigator (who can speak Dari); and a volunteer coordinator.

These people will provide direct assistance to the refugees, helping them settle into their homes and community. They will help link them with health services, schools, Work and Income, employment opportunities and language classes and assist them to obtain a driver's license.


How can our community help make the transition a success?

“For refugees to settle well, it’s all dependent on the community they settle into,” Kathy says. “This requires acceptance and support. With the help of the Ashburton community, we’re hoping our refugees settle well, so they can feel positive about their new home, and begin to integrate into the community. This can take time, so we need to be patient and listen to the needs of the refugees, as we help them through their settlement process.”


How can we make refugees feel welcome?

Most importantly, the Ashburton community can provide a welcoming smile! As the service progresses, we will need volunteers who can work as drivers, offer family support, assist with shopping and more. Transport will be a big issue until the families receive their vehicle licences and cars, so help will be needed here, too. The biggest factor in refugees settling well and becoming happy, involved members of the Mid Canterbury community, is feeling welcomed and accepted. This can be achieved thanks to simple gestures from friendly, helpful and supportive locals. “Please pass this on to friends, family and any other people you are having a conversation with about the refugees coming to Ashburton,” Kathy says. “Your efforts will help to create a supportive environment and make the families’ resettlement a positive one.”


How to volunteer

Volunteers will play an important role in the successful resettlement plan, and a call for support will go out once we know when the refugee families will be coming. While there has already been local interest from people wanting to become volunteers, this will need to be organised in a structured manner to ensure the needs of the families and service are properly met. Please understand this may take time, so we ask volunteers to wait until the Refugee Settlement Service requests support. This will be done through local media, social media and the Safer Mid Canterbury website.


For more information on this service, please email us via our contact form.



I am Yusra. I am a refugee and I’m proud to stand for peace

Yusra Mardini inspired displaced people all over the world when she swam at the Olympic Games. Now she is working on new goals.

By Yusra Mardini  |  11 January 2017   © UNHCR

My name is Yusra. Yes, I’m the girl who swam for her life, then swam at the Olympics. Now I want to tell you another story. It’s about my other name, my other identity. You see, my name is refugee. At least, that’s what they call me. Me and those 21 million others forced to flee persecution, war and violence.

So, who is this refugee? Well, once I was just like you. I had a home, I had roots, I belonged. Like you, I lived my life day-by-day, caught up in my own hopes, passions and problems. Then war came and everything changed.

War gave me a new name, a new role, a new identity: refugee. Suddenly it was go, drop everything, run for your life. Leave your home, relatives, friends and run. It was only after I crossed the border I realised I’d lost more than my house and all my possessions. I’d lost my nationality, my identity, my name. Now I was refugee.

None of us could have prepared for that journey. The desperate prayers at sea, the long trek, the humiliation at the barbed wire. But however hard it was, we knew there was no way back. We’d already lost everything, there was no choice but to keep running, for shelter, for peace.

And then, with a jolt, the journey ended. We were safe. Somewhere, in a tent, a camp, a shelter, the next stage began: the long wait. I think that’s when it hit us. We had nothing to do except cry for what we’d lost. Now we really knew what it meant to be refugees.

So here we are, in a new life, none of us knowing how long we will live it. On average, we’ll spend 20 years in exile, never really belonging, just waiting for an end to the madness so we can go home. That’s half a lifetime, lost, nothing but strangers in a strange land.

We struggle on with our lives. We fight to study, to work, to learn a new language, to integrate. All too often the barriers are too high, the odds stacked against us. But we know we must make the best of this strange and unexpected twist in our lives. To make the best of being a refugee.

That’s our struggle. But this isn’t just our fight, it’s yours too. Many of you already know there’s so much more at stake. For my part, in the months to come I’ll be taking on a new role. I have an important message to spread. The refugees will not go away, there will be more of us. If humanity is to meet this challenge, you must know us for who we really are.

Somewhere, some of you lost sight of that. When our deaths at sea became normal, our misery at the borders commonplace. We faded out of sight, were ushered away behind closed doors. At times, a truly horrific image forced you to face our suffering. A dead toddler lying face down in the sand on the beach, a child’s dazed and bloodied face in an ambulance. Yet afterwards, life went on. Many of you forgot us.

“There is no shame in being a refugee if we remember who we are.”

Silence gave the other voices space to grow. From those who feared and hated us because we looked different, spoke differently, worshipped differently. Those who were most afraid shouted the loudest. They spread those old lies about us. They said we chose to come here, because we’re greedy, dangerous, criminals, here to threaten your way of life.

Fear crept in and some of you began to doubt us. Before long, borders and barriers, both physical and emotional, sprang up everywhere. Refugee was becoming an insult, a name to hurt and humiliate.

But there is no shame in being a refugee if we remember who we are. If we remember that being a refugee is not a choice. That our only choice was to die at home or risk death trying to escape. It was the choice between a bomb and drowning at sea.

So, who are we? We are still the doctors, engineers, lawyers, teachers, students we were back at home. We are still the mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters. It was violence that made us orphans. It was war that made us terrified parents, sacrificing everything to save our children from carnage. It was persecution that drove us from our homes in search of peace.

That is refugee. That is who I am. That is who we all are, that growing population of people without a country. This is my call for us all to take a stand now, together, under that name we share, refugee. I am Yusra. I am a refugee and I’m proud to stand for peace, for decency and dignity for all those fleeing violence. Join me. Stand with us.