City to be Afghan resettlement area

WELCOME: Red Cross Refugee Services co-ordinator Sonja de Lange.
WELCOME: Red Cross Refugee Services co-ordinator Sonja de Lange.

Palmerston North has been designated a resettlement area for refugees from Afghanistan, with the first families expected to arrive in mid-June.

With declining numbers of Bhutanese and Burmese former refugees arriving in the city, there was a need to settle a new ethnic group, recently appointed Red Cross Refugee Services area manager Sonja de Lange said.

"Nothing is ever confirmed until families arrive in Mangere [Refugee Resettlement Centre], and even then, when they're in Mangere when they start doing interviews with them, often we hear about family connections that we were not aware of, so numbers can really change through the next six weeks, but at this stage we've got confirmation of about 17 that we will get on the 13th of June."

Refugees from other countries had been considered, but many came from areas with a high level of education, which meant they would expect appropriate employment immediately.

"That can sometimes be difficult," De Lange said.

"For us it was the Afghans, knowing that some of them will come from rural areas where they come with a lower level of education, so it will be going to ESOL [English for speakers of other languages] classes, picking up the language, their kids going to school and then at least two or three years before they start thinking about employment opportunities."

Last year the families of 10 Afghan interpreters who helped Kiwi soldiers in Afghanistan were settled in the city. De Lange said four families had moved out of the area since then, but that was normal.

"Families do, once they are in an area . . . talk to people in other areas who may say they are working at a place where they can get them a job. It's the networks they start building."

Preliminary indications were that Palmerston North would receive between 80 and 100 former Afghan refugees by June next year.

"I'm really humbled working with the former refugee community, knowing the hardship and trauma they have experienced, but seeing how resilient that community can be," she said.

De Lange was based in Wellington while acting as area manager since Kevin Petersen left at the end of January. She moved to Palmerston North after being formally appointed to the post last month.

She has worked at Red Cross Refugee Services since arriving in New Zealand about six years ago from South Africa, where she had a background in social work and integrity assessment.

She was still familiarising herself with the role and networks, so was not bringing in major changes, but rather meeting stakeholders and building on the foundation her predecessors laid.

"The main priority will be making certain we've got a new ethnicity sorted so that we establish the 14 per cent of the intake that we're responsible for."

Manawatu Standard