New Zealanders who wish to welcome former refugees into their community will be able to apply to participate in a visa sponsorship program starting next month.
the sponsorship program is part of an expanded essay, in which the Aotearoa communities have welcomed whānau from around the world.
The trial began in 2018 and involved four community groups that welcomed six families and 24 refugees in different cities and towns of Aotearoa.
Saralinda MacMillan and two of her friends from Nelson participated in the pilot and joined the local St Vincent De Paul in welcoming a former Whanau refugee to their community.
The group formed a ready-made family for the Syrian couple they sponsored, covering some of their costs and helping with things like learning to drive or swim.
MacMillan said it was an experience that gave her a much deeper connection to her local community.
“We have our own set of difficulties and challenges and not everything is perfect, but overall we are quite privileged when looking at the opportunities that most people can access.”
Now the program is expanding: 150 refugees will be welcomed over the next three years and applications will open in October for anyone who wants to be a sponsor.
New Zealand’s immigration director for refugee and migrant support, Sarah Ward, said the groups could nominate someone to sponsor or be matched with a person in need.
There are a variety of countries eligible for sponsorship, and Community groups from anywhere in Aotearoa can apply to welcome them.
Ward said that meant settlement could occur beyond the main centers, creating more diverse communities.
“You end up with a broader understanding of humanitarian situations and more diverse communities.”
A coordinating organization is being created to assist the sponsors and the refugees they host.
Sarah Ward said that similar programs have been successful in Canada, the UK and Ireland and that the United States is looking to do something similar.
“I think what resonates around the world is the connection to the community, it is about direct community action to support a larger global humanitarian need,” he said.
Refugees participating in the program must have a basic level of English and three years of work experience or two years of tertiary studies.
Pooja Sundar, a committee member for the New Zealand Refugee Council, said she is incredibly pleased that the program has been expanded as it is another way New Zealand can help with the global refugee crisis.
“It is up to New Zealand to take a hard look at what we can do to support the people who have helped us like New Zealand in the past.
“Just out of general human kindness, to make sure New Zealand steps up and does our part, if not more than ours, to ensure that those who are having a difficult time elsewhere have a home here.” .
New Zealand increased its quota of refugees from 1,000 to 1,500 from last year, but Covid-19 forced a pause in arrivals.
Some 210 people were expected to have arrived in the country so far this year.