Big hole in Dunedin refugee support - advocate

7:13 pm on 8 November 2017

A Dunedin refugee advocate is setting up her own support centre for the city's Syrian refugees because she believes not enough is being done to help them.

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Syrian refugees arrive at Dunedin airport. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

At least 200 people from Syria have been resettled in the southern city since last April, in the biggest influx of migrants there since the early 1990s.

Dunedin rolled out the red carpet for the first arrivals - the airport was full with supporters and the Red Cross overrun with volunteers.

But a big hole has now developed in refugee support, said Afife Harris, originally from Lebanon.

"I feel, and they feel, there is a gap, and after 12 months, they don't have other people to help them and stand up for them," Ms Harris said.

"This is why I decided to have this refugee centre, and I'm trying to do my best for them," she said

Ms Harris is beginning the one-day-a-week drop-in centre at Dunedin's Community House, but she hoped it would grow.

She would help the Syrian refugees find work and access services, and sort out the basics of life in their new country.

Afife Harris (L) and Mustafa (R)

Afife Harris (L) and Mustafa (R). Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

One family she was helping was that of former Aleppo tailor Mustafa Allo, who arrived about six months ago with his wife and eight children.

Mr Allo's children were very happy, but he was finding it hard to get a job and and learn English, he said.

The last big influx to Dunedin was Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees in the late 1980s and early 1990s, so the city had no ongoing support.

Mr Allo switched to Arabic to explain why he thought Dunedin needed a permanent refugee centre.

"This centre, it's important, and good for the refugees to have it because the Red Cross only gives 12 months."

The Syrian families typically got 12 months of government-funded support, but the community had to take over after that, the Red Cross's National Settlement Programmes manager, Rachel O'Connor, said.

Dunedin had a new resettlement centre and the refugees had had to build a Syrian community where there was very little before, she said.

But she denied the Red Cross or the city had dropped the ball.

Dunedin had become a "gold-standard settlement location", and the city was starting to experience what the second year of support would look like, Ms O'Connor said.

"The city rose to this amazing response for year one, and I have no doubt they are going to rise to the occasion of what year two and three might look like" said Ms O'Connor.

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