Refugee tally tops 350

Building relationships . . . Celebrating the achievement of settling more than 350 former refugees in Dunedin in the past 18 months are refugee support volunteer Simon Henshaw and Red Cross client services team leader Christelle Burger. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD

Dunedin residents have welcomed more than 350 Syrian former refugees since the city became a resettlement centre 18 months ago.

With new families continuing to arrive this month, the city will have 364 former refugees by December 15.

Red Cross Otago client services team leader Christelle Burger said 450 local volunteers had made a vital contribution to work with Syrian families arriving in the city since April 2016.

“Red Cross staff are pretty busy working with the families when they arrive, so to have the support of the volunteers is fantastic,” Ms Burger said.

Housing for the families was sourced by Immigration New Zealand before they arrived. It was a mix of Housing New Zealand properties and private rentals.

However, once the basics of life were established, the families needed support to learn the ropes of life in Dunedin, Ms Burger said.

Red Cross trained 20 to 35 volunteers every eight weeks, building teams who were assigned to Syrian families as they arrived, and worked with them for up to six months.

“The volunteer groups work together to support the families and each other,” she said.

“And they offer the families vital social support and local knowledge.”

Volunteers also enjoyed the social aspect of working with the families, she said.

Among those who have stepped up to offer their support is volunteer Simon Henshaw who, along with his wife Phillippa and two children, has befriended two Syrian families in the past 18 months.

The first family arrived in October, 2016, and comprised two parents and two children, with a new baby arriving since then.

The second family arrived two months ago, comprising two parents, two children, and now a new baby, too.

“It has been wonderful to get to know them, and to see the arrival of the new babies,” Mr Henshaw said.

The whole Henshaw family has had involvement with the Syrians, learning about their culture and helping them to understand “the Kiwi way”.

“The way things work is very different here, so it has been good to be able to help with problem-solving,” he said.

“We also help to bridge the gap of communication, and help them understand how we tick as Kiwis and why we do what we do.

“And we have really enjoyed showing them around the city and getting to know them as friends.”

In more recent months, more established members of the Syrian community have turned out to support the new arrivals, welcoming them at the airport and sharing knowledge.

Ms Burger said Dunedin would continue to receive about 180 people per year as part of the ongoing resettlement of former refugees in New Zealand.


The first 18 months of resettlement of former Syrian refugees in Dunedin will be celebrated at a family day this Sunday, from 11.30am to 2.30pm at Araiteuru Marae in Shetland St.

Jointly hosted by Dunedin Multi Ethnic Council, Araiteuru Marae and New Zealand Red Cross.

Includes a shared pot-luck lunch, tree-planting ceremony, and a chance for sharing stories, song, dance, and play.

All recent migrants to Dunedin are welcome.