Refugees healthy for community

By: Dr James MacMillan-Armstrong

Refugees. Make it a 'crisis' if you want, but it is actually a blessing.

I was utterly dismayed to read Invercargill's esteemed mayor's response to the announcement that the city will host a number of refugees. In fact I am utterly flabbergasted and ashamed. Do his comments reflect lack of understanding, racism or simple populism? There is no other explanation I can see. Unemployment does not, and never will, come into questions of immigration. Persons arriving anywhere create jobs. They use buses, send their children to schools, eat at cafés, turn on lights and buy bananas just like the rest of us – Mr Shadbolt included. I gather he also drinks beer. Add to this Southland's historically low unemployment – reflecting in fact a shortage of supply of labour rather than an over-supply.

Gore's Mayor Tracey Hicks is very keen for people to move there, to be trained up and take some of their jobs, to keep the town alive. The same is true of rural Southland and Balclutha. It is well evidenced that immigrants/refugees take jobs that the existing population generally don't want to do (clean, pick fruit, work long hours, provide care). They hold together our health system and much of our agricultural sector – just pop in to ED and you'll see this. Ask a few dairy farmers or orchard owners: it's not Kiwis picking your peaches or looking after Granny). In fact fruit is often left on the trees for lack of labour to pick it.

The 2013 census tells me that many areas of Invercargill suffered a population decline between 2006 and 2013. History tells us that this is not good news. Towns, countries and populations prosper economically through population growth. Compare Detroit's woes with Queenstown's fortunes. This is exactly what Southland generally and Invercargill specifically needs: growth.

Tim's comments astonish me further by suggesting we won't be warmly welcoming the refugees. I thought this was a region and city that prided itself on being welcoming. In May 2016 Tim was worried that 'some councillors might not know what the city's slogan is'. I wonder if he has forgotten this himself. It is 'friendly'. Defined as "always pleasant and helpful towards other people". Add to this humiliation the frequently appalling circumstances that brought these people here and the horrendous journey many of them will have undertaken, possibly involving days at sea, capsizing and rescue, drowning of relatives or extortion from people smuggling gangs. What these people desperately need above everything else is friendship. I would have thought that we could, at least, provide that.

Tim's final concern was housing. I, too, share concern here. I'm concerned about the ongoing sell-off of state housing with little apparent planning for the future. I am concerned about the appalling quality of rental accommodation in the city and rural area. I am concerned about the woeful lack of adequate insulation. I am concerned that when anyone comes to live here with limited means they will be faced with a shocking array of terrible homes to live in.

Please, Invercargill and Southland, see this as an opportunity to welcome a small number of people into our community. People whose lives have been shattered by war and destruction. Who have left their families and often lost them. People who have been forced from their homes, lives, community and own culture. They are frightened and vulnerable. We should be welcoming them with open arms, not using them for political ping-pong.


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