Too 'white' for refugees?

By Emily Norman -
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Reverend Andy Eldred, from St Luke's Church in Greytown.
Reverend Andy Eldred, from St Luke's Church in Greytown.

Poor job prospects and an overly "white" culture mean refugees are unlikely to resettle in the Wairarapa, claims a church leader.

Anglican and Catholic parishes in Wairarapa rolled out the welcome mat for refugees late last year, donating goods, and offering up homes for refugees to live in, in response to the European migrant crisis.

But Wairarapa will not be a resettlement destination, with cities instead being more suitable for the purpose, according to Andy Eldred, reverend at St Luke's Anglican Church in Greytown.

"It's a two-fold thing, there's employment in cities, and also a community there - that sense of finding people of a similar ethnic background who they can feel comfortable with," he said.

"As colourful as we are with our Maori and Pakeha background, Wairarapa is pretty light on the ground in terms of other exotic cultures.

"In the cities, even though it's a very foreign experience for refugees, at least they can have someone who understands where they come from, but also understands the culture of New Zealand to help them negotiate."

On the topic of a lack of multiculturalism in Wairarapa, Mr Eldred said he had only last weekend discussed with his parish "why are we so white?".

"It isn't that we don't have Maori and Pasifika, but look at us, we're a bunch of Pakeha.
"Where is everybody? Why don't other people feel that this is a place where they would belong?

"It isn't that anybody is racist. It's just that there's that sense of like collects like.

"You actually have to be intentional and step out of your comfort zone in order to meet people in that vulnerable place."

The government determines which areas refugees are resettled in after they undergo a six-week orientation programme at the Department of Immigration's Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre.

These areas are Auckland, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Wellington, Nelson, and Dunedin.

Mr Eldred said although Wairarapa would not receive any refugees, parishes throughout the region are still "putting our hands up to say, hey what can we do?"

"We're doing what we can in terms of practical support but we don't have any line on any refugees actually coming here to live.

"Of course if we did we would surround them and do all we could to support them and get them jobs, whatever we could do."

Red Cross humanitarian services manager for the central region Shane La'ulu said the "overwhelming generosity" shown by community groups in the face of the refugee crisis was "on a scale we haven't see before".

"Support has come from all corners of Aotearoa, even come from areas like Wairarapa, which isn't a resettlement location," he said.

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