Refugees moving closer to mosques

A lack of religious facilities is behind some of the high-profile Afghan interpreter families leaving Palmerston North, but plans are afoot to improve conditions for other Afghan refugees set to make the city home.

The Manawatu Standard understands about four of the 10 families who were settled in the city have left, mainly due to the lack of a Shi'ite mosque.

The families were settled in Manawatu in June last year because of concerns about their safety in Afghanistan, as members of each family had worked as interpreters for the New Zealand Defence Force in Bamiyan Province.

But on arrival, some of the refugees have found they do not have a place to worship due to the one mosque in Palmerston North being Sunni.

Shi'ite and Sunni are two separate denominations of Islam.

Much like Catholics and Protestants in Christianity, the Sunni and Shi'ite believe the same basic principles of Islam but differ on some points.

Sunni are the largest denomination, while Shi'ites are believed to make up about 15 per cent of Muslims worldwide.

Red Cross Refugee Services Manawatu area manager Sonja de Lange said she was aware of the problems which faced Afghans in the city, especially the Shi'ites among them.

"Some of them told us they felt like they didn't have much support here."

But refugee services were working on plans to ensure Afghans heading to the city in the future would have a better chance of feeling more welcome.

Red Cross was on the lookout for a property in the city to turn into an Afghan community centre.

The centre could be used by the Afghan community for celebrations, cultural events and religious ceremonies.

There was also an Afghan man who had been teaching people Dari (a language spoken in Afghanistan) who could use the centre.

A property was thought to have been found, but renovations by the landlord meant other options were being looked at, de Lange said.

"It is a big priority for us, because Ramadan starts this weekend."

The community centre could also be used as an alternative mosque for Shi'ite Afghans.

The plan was for the Red Cross to find the premises and fund it for six months, de Lange said. After that, the Afghan community would set up a society to keep the centre going.

While some Afghan families have left, the city is set to get more.

Manawatu is one of five refugee resettlement areas in New Zealand - the others being Auckland, Waikato, Wellington, and Nelson - and it was designated a resettlement area for Afghan refugees earlier this year.

Preliminary indications were that Palmerston North would be home to up to 100 refugees from Afghanistan by June next year.

Manawatu Standard