Palmerston North community leaders support refugee intake increase

Shugofa Wahidi, of Afghanistan, talks about being welcomed in New Zealand during a rally to support Muslim people.

Shugofa Wahidi, of Afghanistan, talks about being welcomed in New Zealand during a rally to support Muslim people.

Community leaders are calling for Palmerston North to take on more refugee families.

The call comes on the back of a Muslim rally, held on Sunday, where more than 200 people gathered to show their support for countries targeted by US President Donald Trump's controversial travel ban.

All Saints Church parish priest John Hornblow said the city had the potential to take on more refugee families.

Palmerston North currently takes 15 per cent of the national quota of 750 people a year.

Immigration New Zealand statistics show 113 refugees relocated to the city in 2015/16 and 114 in 2014/15.

Hornblow said he supported Palmerston North taking more refugee families, but over a long time period and backed with increased resources.

"What I wouldn't want is for them to increase the quota to 1500 and keep the resources at the same level."

Housing, employment, and schooling were all factors to consider, Hornblow said.

The Government had a good resettlement system in place, but it was one which could be aided with a community sponsorship programme - similar to Canada's, Hornblow said.

In Canada, private sponsors are able to sponsor refugees through a refugee and humanitarian resettlement programme.

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Labour's MP Iain Lees-Galloway said he thought New Zealand had the capacity to take more refugees and Palmerston North could help with this, but there were a couple of things that needed addressing before that would be the case.

Another industry that needed addressing was the mental health system, Lees-Galloway said.

There was a mixture of attitudes in all communities, but in Palmerston North there were also many people who were positive, compassionate and willing to help others, he said.

People from organisations directly involved with the refugee community said at Sunday's rally they believed the city had room for more refugees, Manawatu Muslim Association president Zulfiqar Butt said.

"When the people who are actually involved in this community say we have room, then I think we should support them."

Butt said he has travelled to almost every main city in New Zealand and believed Palmerston North had the "most diverse community and peaceful and most welcoming community".

"I have friends from almost all of the communities – Burma, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Zimbabwe.

"I think New Zealand has actually got a very nice system of accepting people and helping them settle into the country."

Although Butt was a "little bit worried" about the situation in America, he hoped it would blow over.

Acceptance of Muslims, migrants and former refugees was a common thing in New Zealand.

"I don't feel that there would be any problems if we were to get more of these people here."

Sonja de Lange, from the Red Cross, said ultimately the decision lay with the Government and its departments.

If there was an intake increase in the city, the Government would have to also increase resources to ensure refugees were supported well in their resettlement, she said.

De Lange looked forward to seeing more refugees welcomed and supported in the city in the future.

Immigration officials could not comment before this edition went to print.

 - Stuff

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