04 May 2017

Southland MPs speak out about Invercargill refugee centre decision

Southland MPs have spoken out about a government decision to designate Invercargill as a seventh national refugee centre.

Immigration NZ announced unexpectedly on Monday that Invercargill would start to receive part of a nationwide allocation of 1000 refugees from November/December this year.

The decision – made without consultation with local stakeholders, including the Invercargill City Council – brought disappointed reactions from civic leaders and members of the public, who took to social media to vent their feelings.

After the sudden announcement, Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt said immigration and refugees were a “difficult issue to deal with,” expressing particular concern about sufficient housing, and finding suitable employment for an unplanned influx of new residents.

On Thursday, Invercargill-based NZ First list MP Ria Bond said she agreed with some of Shadbolt’s concerns, and was also critical of the Government’s lack of consultation.

“…Tim Shadbolt’s concerns about employment opportunities and whether we have enough housing are valid. The decision reached by Immigration NZ and the government would have taken months to decide, so it’s neglectful and arrogant of this government to not communicate with local councils,” she said.

“The government must work more inclusively with local bodies when it’s making such decisions.”

However, National MP for Invercargill Sarah Dowie defended the Government’s decision and said she was “shocked and saddened” at some of the comments she had read on Facebook about the announcement.

“If you read the many negative comments you may believe that 1000 inappropriate people are going to be dumped on Invercargill’s doorstep with no support! We are one of seven settlements and 1000 is the total refugee quota for NZ,” she said on Facebook.

But Bond said the lack of consultation simply made a difficult situation even more challenging for both locals and any refugees eventually arriving in the south.

“Talking to some of the wonderful refugees who’ve already arrived in other parts of New Zealand, it’s clear that what they want and need to settle successfully is a thorough briefing on all aspects of New Zealand life,” Bond said.

“Things like medical care, schooling and appropriate housing can be a significant challenge for refugees, and even things we take for granted like preparing a CV or obtaining a driver’s licence can be a major obstacle to success.”

Meanwhile, Southland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Sheree Carey said “horrifying comments” on social media around the Refugee Settlement Centre announcement made Southland seem “like uneducated rednecks” and she wanted to get a positive message out to the rest of New Zealand that the comments were not a reflection of “the vast majority of Southlanders”.

“We as a community welcome migrants wholeheartedly. The Southland Regional Development Strategy’s goal of 10,000 people by 2025 can’t be reached without people from other regions and countries coming to our province.”

Southland businesses needed more workers and the community was benefiting hugely from the new migrants coming to Southland already, from all over the world. International students were coming to study at SIT and, in many cases, choosing to stay in Southland, and the farming community benefitted from the hardworking migrants that had chosen a rural career, she said.

A video, featuring Dowie, Southland District Mayor Gary Tong, Chamber of Commerce chairwoman Carla Forbes and resident Stephen Grieve, has been created to address the negative comments.