John Weekes

John Weekes is an NZME. News Service reporter based in Wellington.

Refugee resettlement base to be refurbished

$15.9m project to replace wartime barracks with modern facilities

Esperance Lufufuado (centre) and daughters Rachel and Phalone Ibambusi (right) are from the Congo. Photo / Doug Sherring
Esperance Lufufuado (centre) and daughters Rachel and Phalone Ibambusi (right) are from the Congo. Photo / Doug Sherring

The country's refugee-processing centre is being overhauled — with the capacity to house a huge and sudden intake if necessary.

Concept drawings for the new Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre show a radical departure from the old facilities, originally built as World War II barracks. The designs include a soccer field, more open green space, and a generally less military-type building layout.

Existing buildings will be demolished in stages and the Government wants the new $15.9 million centre functional by the end of next year.

For many arrivals, the Mangere site is their first experience of a peaceful, democratic country.

Esperance Lufufuado and her daughters Rachel and Phalone Ibambusi arrived this month from war-ravaged Congo via a Ugandan refugee camp. Some of their relatives already lived in Auckland.

The trio knew little about New Zealand before arriving, relying on a United Nations handout. "We didn't know much, only they gave us a booklet which gave us some information like: New Zealand is cold, and they have welcoming people," Rachel, 20, said through an interpreter. They lost contact with their relatives in the Congo.

Rachel, 18, and Esperance, 35, said the centre was of generally good standard but the toilets and bathrooms could be better.

Refugee Quota Branch manager Gemajl Murati said almost 30,000 people had stayed at the centre since it started operations in 1979.

"The existing premises are not purpose-built," Murati said. "Agencies are scattered in different buildings." He said the overhaul would put different agencies under one roof.

New Zealand accepts 675 to 825 refugees every year, in six intakes of around 125 people each.

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said the quota would be reviewed in 2016. The new buildings would be able to absorb a sudden intake at short notice but there were no plans for major changes to the quota system.

This week, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott called for neighbouring countries to "share the burden" of resettlement.

University of Auckland foreign policy expert Associate Professor Stephen Hoadley said NZ's refugee system was in good shape.

"As long as the refugee intake remains at 750 for New Zealand, I don't see a major problem."

- Herald on Sunday

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf05 at 24 Oct 2014 03:28:28 Processing Time: 214ms