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Call to activate refugee policy

CAPTION: Masterton man Dennis Bartlett PHOTO/BECKIE WILSON

By Beckie Wilson

[email protected]

A Wairarapa man hopes the community will step up if government doubles the refugee quota and places families in the region.

In June last year, the government decreed it would raise New Zealand’s refugee quota to accept up to 1000 a year — the first rise since the quota was set at 750 in 1987.

It also announced a pilot programme to allow community groups to privately-sponsor 25 refugees.

While the pilot was to test communities’ willingness, no official timeframe was set.

Masterton man Dennis Bartlett, an ex-policeman who owns Jolly Good Shoe Repairs, hopes to see a government which will place more importance on the plight of refugees.

“The government has announced they will trial it, they are a bit slow in getting it off the ground,” Mr Bartlett said.

He was involved in resettling a family from Sudan in Lower Hutt about eight years ago and was “moved” by the experience.

Allowing more refugees into the country, and bringing them to Wairarapa would mean he could continue to help.

Murdoch Stephens from the Doing Our Bit campaign to double the quota will stop off in Masterton on his nationwide tour next month.

He will speak about the refugee crisis, New Zealand’s policies, and how communities can get involved.

“We don’t know what Wairarapa can do until the meeting,” Mr Bartlett said.

“If there is sufficient support, like if 100 people turn up, this will be an opportunity for people who are interested in providing support, and then maybe form a sub-committee.”

Even if 20 people showed a commitment to a pilot group of 25 refugees, that would be enough, he said.

He believes there is enough jobs for them on dairy farms and vineyards when they arrive.

“We have all the blessings, but I’m concerned we are becoming miserable and stingy with it.

“We have all sorts of social problems as well . . . [and] there’s many people to help here, but it’s not either or, it can both — can’t it?”

The work settling a family into the community was almost 90 per cent done by volunteers, he said.

“Not everything comes down to the dollars, it’s a compassionate thing.”

It was a political decision, but if the community showed it was willing to help, then that would be another step forward, he said.

Mr Bartlett and Jorge Sandoval will speak on the issue from a local perspective.

Jorge Sandoval… fled Chile to find a new home PHOTO/FILE

Mr Sandoval sought refuge in New Zealand after being imprisoned and tortured during Augusto Pinochet’s regime in Chile in the 1970s.

He was just like the 63 million refugees around the world today looking for a place to start a new life away from wars and danger.

The government should think seriously about increasing the quota, Mr Sandoval said.

“I didn’t come to New Zealand because I wanted to live here — if I could do my life all over again, I would love to live my whole life in my country, and be a Chilean in my country,” he said.

It was a privilege for him to be accepted into New Zealand, and he knew that refugees just want to be free and have a fresh start to create a future for their families.

“Most people that come here don’t come for [the dole], they don’t come here to rely on the country, they want an opportunity to be happy and free.”

A small region such as Wairarapa would be a great place for refugees to start a new life, he said.

“The smaller communities seem to be more caring about their people than in big cities — in big cities you are just another person.”

Refugees settle in Auckland, Waikato, Manawatu, Wellington, Nelson, Dunedin and recently Invercargill.

Australia has five times New Zealand’s population, but takes eighteen times the New Zealand refugee quota.

Refugees welcome in region

Wairarapa MP Alastair Scott said the region is a “good option” for refugees to resettle.

“I have spoken to the minister about this issue about 12 months ago,” Mr Scott said.

“It’s close to Wellington, has a good population base… and it has a relatively low cost of living, and infrastructure — it’s got everything.”

The region would be “pretty open” to help refugee families, but it is not as simple as just bringing them here.

It would need to have facilities to help support the families.

Masterton District councillor Gary Caffell said Masterton is a diverse society, and should welcome people who want to live here.

“[The council] have spent a lot of money to get people from Auckland here because of the housing crisis, and I don’t see it any different,” Mr Caffell said.

Murdoch Stephens nationwide tour ‘Refugees Welcome’ will be on July 26, at Reformed Church, Masterton.



  1. i’m a persecuted christian from Iran. my family and i are living a refugee life in indonesia and we are awaiting for a country to accept us. but unfortunately UNHCR Indonesia is resettling mainly Muslim refugees from Afghanistan and our resettlement case is stuck in their archive for last 4 years…
    we keep praying and we wish we could be resettled somewhere where we could call it home. where we could have safety and security as well as freedom. but it looks like a dream to us at this moment…

  2. To use Australia as an example, I would hope that the “government” would accept all of the persecuted christians before any other, and not those who have caused that persecution.

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