Whanganui is set to start welcoming more than 100 refugees each year as new residents of the city.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway was in Whanganui on Thursday to announce the city would be one of five new refugee settlement locations around New Zealand.

Last year New Zealand's refugee quota was increased from 750 annually to 1000 and this will increase to 1500 in 2020.

Lees-Galloway said Whanganui was "growing from strength to strength" and refugee resettlement would help support such growth.


"We all know the primary reason for welcoming refugees is humanitarian but the research shows that there are economic and social benefits to accepting refugees as well," he said.

Lees-Galloway told the Chronicle refugees would start to be introduced to Whanganui in March 2020 and would scale up to 3-5 families every six-eight weeks.

"Annually that will look like about 110 people each year."

Before families arrive they will have spent six weeks at the Māngere Refugee Resettlement Centre in Auckland.

"One of the reasons we're making the announcement today, well in advance of March 2020, is so all of the centres have time to prepare."

Immigration NZ will work with centres to make sure refugees had access to housing, GPs, education, English language classes and employment.

"Absolute bottom line is; no one will be coming to Whanganui... until they have housing organised," Lees-Galloway said.

Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall said the city had a long history of welcoming immigrants.

"We're a small intimate community where we take care of each other. We are not a xenophobic community in any way," he said.

Green Party immigration spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman says refugees will remember the day they arrive in Whanganui forever. Photo/ Stuart Munro
Green Party immigration spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman says refugees will remember the day they arrive in Whanganui forever. Photo/ Stuart Munro

McDouall acknowledged the Government's increase to the refugee quota and said "it was long overdue".

Despite a current housing shortage in Whanganui, acknowledged in a council report late last year, McDouall said Whanganui could cope with housing the new residents.

"The whole of New Zealand has a housing shortage.

"I think with the investment Housing New Zealand is making in Whanganui and also with building consents up and developments expanded - those two things will assist."

McDouall expected many refugees would be "extremely well qualified" and find vacant jobs to fill.

"There are employers along Heads Road screaming for specialists."

Meanwhile, Lees-Galloway is MP for Palmerston North which has taken in refugees for a number of years.

"It has been an overwhelming success," he said.

"There's cohort of people who are ready and willing to work, ready and willing to be part of the community and bring their culture and experience to our doorstep.

"I think Whanganui should be excited about the prospect of seeing these new families come in and live with them, work with them, be at their schools with their children.

"They bring the cultures of the world to your own community and they bring an incredibly strong commitment to building a new life and being part of the community here."

Lees-Galloway said the move was about fulfilling New Zealand's obligation to provide "a small number of people displaced by war and disaster a place to call home".

Green Party MP Golriz Ghahraman, the first refugee elected to New Zealand's Parliament, and the party's immigration spokesperson, spoke at Thursday's announcement and said it was important to remember where refugees were coming to Whanganui from.

She recalled arriving in New Zealand as a child from Iran.

"I remember that day vividly.

"We had come from a decade of war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq where some of our big cities were devastated....

"And that was just a backdrop in my childhood because the thing we feared on an every day basis was the persecution."

Ghahraman's family settled in West Auckland.

"I'll never forget the first time I was allowed to walk down to the dairy to buy an ice block in bare feet like a real Kiwi," she said.

"That's what these families are in for. They'll remember those moments forever."

Masterton, Levin, Blenheim and Timaru were also announced alongside Whanganui to join the eight existing resettlement centres.