The government has spent more than eight million dollars nationwide on it’s ‘Welcoming Communities’ programme helping new arrivals to New Zealand, with participating Wairarapa local authorities welcoming the investment.
Data obtained under the Official Information Act from the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment [MBIE] shows the government allocated $8.13 million to the Welcoming Communities programme during 2021-2023, even though the border was closed part of that time.
The programme for new arrivals who need extra help is led by Immigration New Zealand [INZ] in partnership with the Ministry of Ethnic Communities and the Human Rights Commission.
“Welcoming Communities works towards healthier, happier and more productive communities by welcoming newcomers into the local community,” according to the INZ website, which goes on to explain there are 34 local councils and five local boards working with their communities to implement the programme that aims to put the welcome mat out for newcomers including recent migrants, former refugees, and international students.
Masterton District Council [MDC] and South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] have joined the programme, and both have spoken highly of its benefits.
Greig Young, INZ acting general manager of refugee and migrant services, said the settlement programme supports local government councils and their communities to create welcoming and inclusive environments for newcomers, including recent migrants and former refugees.
“The funding allocated to the programme while the border was closed was carried over to the 2022/23 fiscal year so it could continue making a positive impact on the lives of immigrants and refugees who had already arrived in New Zealand,” Young said.
“Cabinet also approved a $2.5 million increase in funding for the program in 2023/24. This will allow the programme to continue its partnership with iwi and local councils in building welcoming communities and helping newcomers feel at home.
“Communities that make newcomers feel welcome are likely to enjoy better social outcomes and stronger economic growth. In this environment, everyone can participate in the economic, civic, cultural, and social life of the community. Building connections between locals and newcomers means everyone feels included and knows they belong.”
Spokespeople from both MDC and SWDC said the programme is working well for their communities.
Fiona Whiteridge, general manager of refugee and migrant services at INZ, confirmed MDC received a total of $150,000 in funding for the programme [$50,000 in each of 2021, 2022 and 2023]. SWDC received $50,000 in 2023.
Corin Haines, MDC manager of community facilities and activities, said the programme helps people settle in.
“We are delighted to be part of the Welcoming Communities programme. We know we have a friendly and supportive community, and the Welcoming Communities programme helps us to work with people in the community to make Masterton truly ‘home’ for newcomers to the district,” he said.
“We are seeing some great results through having a Welcoming Communities advisor.”
MDC is working with the community to develop a ‘Welcome Plan’ that will set out new and existing local policies, services, programmes, and activities to make Masterton more welcoming to newcomers. The plan is expected to be implemented from March next year, while a wide range of activities is planned for later this year.
SWDC Welcoming Communities coordinator Michaela Lloyd has praised the programme too.
“I would personally add that this is a very positive opportunity for SWDC to be participating in a successful national programme like this.
“We are a small council with modest means, and this funding gives us an opportunity to support more, and often ‘unreached’, people within our community,” she said.
“When new people have positive experiences settling into their local community, they’re much more likely to participate in, and contribute to, their local community and economy – which everyone benefits from.”
Lloyd said the district has relatively high migration for its size, and this is tipped to increase.
“So it gives us an opportunity to be ahead of the curve and intentional about how we induct new people into our local culture and communities.”
The programme in South Wairarapa is in its establishment phase, to be followed by a detailed plan and activities over time.
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