Shakeup in migrant services

Council job cuts cause concern

STACEY KNOTT
Last updated 12:58 05/06/2014
Sonny Alesana
ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ
WILL BE MISSED: Nelson City Council settlement support adviser Sonny Alesana has lost his job.

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Major changes to support services for migrants and refugees have led to job losses of key support people in the Nelson region, whose services will be sorely missed, according to those in the sector.

Nelson Tasman Settlement Support's community liaison advisor Sonny Alesana will lose his job as has Settling In relationship manager Claire Nichols. Red Cross Refugee Services Nelson office will also experience a shakeup and changes in roles, including one redundancy.

Alesana had been in his role for the past seven years. It was funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) which had supplied the contract to the Nelson City Council. He was responsible for supporting new people to the region and connecting them with service providers.

He also researched future work pattern trends, and looked at skill shortages in the region and worked with employers to bring the shortages to Government's attention. Alesana also worked with investors who wanted to move to the region. He would supply support and advice and connect them with immigration advisers.

Alesana said he knew the redundancy was coming and was hopeful the work he did would be continued through other agencies.

Alesana was managed by Nelson City Council kaihautu Geoff Mullen who said he would be missed.

"He's done a wonderful job for his kaupapa and built some bridges. He's done good by the people he's working for and his services will be missed."

Immigration New Zealand settlement, protection and attraction general manager Steve McGill said late last year Immigration NZ contracted and funded 18 Settlement Support New Zealand providers, but a review showed the model was no longer effective or efficient.

The national restructuring was proposed to have settlement co-ordinators replaced with a national settlement information service, eight retention specialists throughout the country, and phone and email support.

Nelson Multicultural Council co-ordinator Evey McAuliffe is disappointed with the loss of Settling In Nelson relationship manager Claire Nichols who worked to help build relationships between refugees, migrants and the Nelson community. Settling In was administered by the Ministry of Social Development but on April 1 it transferred across to the Office of Ethnic Affairs (OEA), which is part of the Department of Internal Affairs.

With the move, Nichols' role was disestablished and the office of Settling In Nelson closed.

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McAuliffe said Nichols's work had a "great impact" on the Nelson refugee sector. She had been in the role for five years.

"Claire had joined all the dots (between different support services) and set up quite a few initiatives."

She said moving it from the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) to the Office of Ethnic Affairs meant there was more of an economic development focus of settling new migrants and refugees into the community.

McAuliffe was "puzzled and bothered" that the role was disestablished in Nelson and worried that the OEA had a minimal presence in Nelson.

She said there had not been any handover of Nichols' five years of work in the role, and her work would be sorely missed in the refugee community.

She had encouraged refugees to unite and created a local forum to address issues and worked hard to build up trust and relationships with refugees.

"You are losing a huge amount which has been gained. The relationship-building that has gone on will be hard to replace, especially if there is no-one on the ground here."

McAuliffe said she hoped the many initiatives Nichols had implemented would continue, but was concerned about the future of refugee support.

Ethnic Affairs Minister Judith Collins said having Settling In services within OEA would "enable closer sharing of these capabilities and more effective targeting of services to areas where they are most needed."

However, McAuliffe was sceptical and said the disestablishment of Nichols' role would not be good for long-term resettlement.

She said she had only seen people from OEA about three times in Nelson over the past five years.

The refugee sector would experience further changes because for the first time, the Government put its contract for refugee resettlement services up for tender. While Red Cross, which previously held the contract, won it again there had been significant changes to it. Starting July 1, changes included two roles being disestablished in Nelson, one employee had been moved to another role within the Red Cross, though the other was made redundant.

New Zealand Red Cross refugee services manager Molly Kennedy said the changes were complex and while it would continue to provide core resettlement services for the 750 quota refugees, it would no longer be responsible for finding new refugees housing and furniture. It would also no longer do the pre-settlement work at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre, which included settlement planning, psychosocial assessments and social work support.

Red Cross would still supply social development support.

"The support for families looks largely the same locally. Each family or individual will receive support from Red Cross Refugee Services for their settlement in New Zealand. This support includes help from social workers, resettlement case workers, cross cultural workers and trained volunteers."

Andrew Lockhart, Refugee Division national manager through MBIE, said the new contract was "part of broader changes made to strengthen the support provided to quota refugees resettled in New Zealand".

"The programme will see refugees provided with more information on working and living in New Zealand prior to arrival, a needs assessment will also be conducted at this stage."

Nelson Red Cross refugee services manager Gabrielle Humphreys said the changes meant they would be losing "faithful and valuable" employee Gavin McKwen who has been responsible for collecting and setting up houses for families before they arrived in Nelson.

Relying on donated furniture from the Nelson community had created "very special links" and Humphreys said the Nelson office wanted to thank people for the years of donations.

"We have really appreciated the donations that have come. People have made a very special effort to give us good quality donations, wanting them to be be used for our refugee families." However, they would still be looking for homeware and linen, and refugee families would still need local volunteers to help them.

Humphreys said they would be working to create strong links between refugees and "mainstream" services in Nelson. They would push for services to upskill to be able to manage the refugee clients. This would include encouraging them to provide interpretation services.

Refugee Services had a "wonderful" relationship with the Nelson Bays Primary Health which contracted it to provide translation support for GP visits. "That is a model for other agencies to work that way too."

- The Nelson Mail

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