Christchurch to grow in diversity

NEW MIGRANTS: Amanda and Conrad Stoffels with daughter Michalin, 11.
NEW MIGRANTS: Amanda and Conrad Stoffels with daughter Michalin, 11.

Christchurch will be snapping at Auckland's heels as the most ethnically diverse city in the country when thousands of migrants flood in for the rebuild, a sociologist says.

Massey University Professor Paul Spoonley said the earthquake-hit city would "leapfrog" from one of New Zealand's least ethnically diverse cities to a top contender for the title over the next 18 months.

The "unparalleled" influx of construction migrants into Christchurch would result in the Garden City's streets looking a lot more like Auckland, he said.

"The people of Christchurch have got to understand that there are going to be very different faces on the streets soon. It's going to be a very different city in a few years and it is important they adjust to that."

Spoonley, who has researched immigration and employment issues in New Zealand for the past three decades, believed the size of the influx could lead to the country's third major immigration wave.

Auckland's 1.5 million population is made up of 40 per cent migrants, while only 20 per cent of Christchurch residents are currently overseas-born, less than the 23 per cent national average, Statistics New Zealand figures show. Spoonley said that was all about to change.

Canterbury Employment and Skills Board figures estimated a core 26,000 construction workers would arrive in the city for the rebuild over the next 18 months, bringing with them about 12,000 additional ancillary support services, such as ethnic shops and restaurants, he said.

"The proportion of ethnic groups in the city will rise quite rapidly and quite fast. It's going to change the cultural mix and transform the community."

The professor raised concerns over how to adequately prepare Cantabrians for the "culture shock", how "welcoming" the community would be to the thousands of migrants and how to ensure employers understood the need for diversity.

"Christchurch is going to need to rebuild in a social sense as well as a physical sense. You need champions for the rebuild, you need champions for worker recruitment and I think you will need champions for making Christchurch a welcoming city," he said.

Taz Mukorombindo, chief executive of migrant mentoring programme Canterbury Business Association, did not believe the city had made enough preparations for the transformation.

"There is a lot of goodwill in Christchurch but we will need to prepare for this more than we are imagining. We need to have more conversations and to fully engage with the community before the migrants arrive," Mukorombindo said.

Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend had no doubts Christchurch people would "welcome and celebrate" the new migrants. The city would depend on thousands of external resources when the rebuild began. The workers would be "of a multitude of nationalities and ethnicities and we will welcome them".

The arrival of the newcomers would raise "significant issues and challenges" for the Chamber of Commerce, Townsend said.

"We have been a little more monocultural than other areas of New Zealand in the past and that's going to change, but that's not a bad thing. It's really positive for the future of the city," he said.

South African migrant Debbie Warwood moved from Auckland to Christchurch late last year and had initial concerns that she wouldn't "fit in" but she had found the community welcoming and she now felt "comfortable" in the city.

"On my first weekend down here I went walking through Riccarton mall and the first thing I noticed was that you don't see a lot of Maoris or Islanders. It was a bit of a concern for me and I wondered if I would be accepted here," she said.

"As a coloured South African I felt safe between the Maoris and Islanders in Auckland and I was worried when I first moved down," she said.

CITY SEEN AS 'MONOCULTURAL'

Christchurch is "welcoming but visually very monocultural", a South African family who moved to Christchurch for the rebuild say.

The Stoffels family moved to New Zealand from Johannesburg earlier this year and hope to make the shift permanent.

Conrad Stoffels, 43, his wife and two daughters are currently on holiday visas while he tries to secure employment in the city's swelling construction industry.

He said many more South African migrants could follow in his family's footprints as the rebuild progresses.

More than 30 family and friends had contacted Stoffels from South Africa since he made the move and inquired about the Christchurch economy and the likelihood of finding work in the rebuild, he said.

The former safety, health, environment and quality specialist said he applied for about four jobs per day and had sent his CV into hundreds of Christchurch construction businesses over the past four months.

He thought the earthquake-ravaged city would offer better job prospects than anywhere else in the country and said a work visa was "the first step to normalising our lives here".

Once he had secured a visa, his daughters, Zoe, 16, and Michalin, 11, would be enrolled in schools and the "next step" for the family would be applying for permanent residency.

"We need to take it one step at a time."

The Press