For years, Nelson has been held up as a model centre for settling refugees. Around 800 have been resettled here. More than half are from Myanmar, or Burma - we have the largest Chin community in the country.
A key test of any immigration system is how well and how quickly new arrivals join in with wider community life. The lower the level of integration, the less successful the programme. If ethnic groups cling too tightly together they can miss out on some of the benefits of Kiwi life, and a range of social issues can arise. Conversely, the community also fails to gain the benefits of greater diversity, experience, and different ways of seeing the world.
The shake-up of migrant services in Nelson as reported in the Mail yesterday is concerning. The significant gains that have been made in establishing support services for refugees and other migrants look destined to be swept away - and for what? The costs are likely to far outweigh any benefits.
There has been no coherent explanation as yet of the need for these changes - in particular the loss of the Settling In office in Nelson. Its manager Claire Nichols has been effective and tireless in her advocacy on behalf of new arrivals and building relationships with the community.
Nelson Tasman Settlement Support adviser Sonny Alesana has also held an extremely valuable link role, particularly with the Pacific Island community and the loss of his position is equally short-sighted.
Building trust is not always easy to accomplish and can be quickly lost. Refugees are among the most vulnerable and easily exploited groups in any community. The Government might be continuing to meet international obligations by filling an annual quota. However, letting individuals settle here is only the start of meeting its obligations to them. Unravelling programmes that have taken years to build for political, philosophical or short-sighted economic reasons makes no sense.
- The Nelson Mail