The I Welcome Pledge: Communities coming together to welcome refugees

23 May 2018, 08:19 UTC | New Zealand
© Amnesty International NZ

Next month Christchurch will welcome its first new refugee families since the Government’s refugee quota programme was put on hold there eight years ago.

The newcomers are part of an innovative effort that is opening the door for more refugees to rebuild their lives in safe places. It complements the existing government-led refugee quota programme, but communities themselves are the ones offering the support. Language lessons, help finding a home, advice on putting together a CV, babysitting, showing new Kiwis how to use the public transport system – these are just some of the ways individual people, organisations and businesses can welcome refugees and help them resettle.

Today Amnesty International launches the I Welcome Pledge to show public support for this new programme.

“New Zealanders pride ourselves on being a caring bunch with a can-do attitude. With community sponsorship we'll be able to pitch in and do our part in solving a global problem."

Meg de Ronde, Amnesty International New Zealand’s Campaigns Director

“New Zealanders pride ourselves on being a caring bunch with a can-do attitude. With community sponsorship we'll be able to pitch in and do our part in solving a global problem,” said Meg de Ronde, Amnesty International New Zealand’s Campaigns Director.

“Canada has welcomed over 300,000 refugees this way. The relationships formed welcoming newcomers in Canada have transformed not only the lives of the people seeking safety, but also the lives of the communities that have welcomed them,” said de Ronde.

The programme is currently at pilot stage, with up to 30 refugees coming to Christchurch, Timaru, Nelson and Waikato in June and July. Later in the year, the Government will consider how successful it has been and whether there is enough public support to continue it on into the future.

"We already know that community sponsorship works well. We need to make sure this becomes an annual pathway to bring more refugees to safety."

Meg de Ronde

“The pilot programme is a good step. We already know that community sponsorship works well. We need to make sure this becomes an annual pathway to bring more refugees to safety.

“That’s why we’re asking people to take the I Welcome Pledge to show their support,” said de Ronde.

There are currently over 22.5 million refugees around the world, but less than 1 per cent of them are getting one of the precious resettlement spots per year. Community sponsorship is a win-win. It works alongside the refugee quota, giving more people the chance to build new lives in a safe place. In the process, people offering support are having life-changing experiences, our communities are becoming more welcoming, newcomers feel wanted and they can settle in more quickly.

In Christchurch, the South West Baptist Church in Spreydon is one of the 2018 groups offering support. They are sponsoring three families.

“Like many Kiwis we have seen images of war on TV and felt helpless. So when the Government announced the community sponsorship scheme we felt like this was something where we could make a difference."

Alan Jamieson, Senior Pastor at the South West Baptist Church

“Like many Kiwis we have seen images of war on TV and felt helpless. So when the Government announced the community sponsorship scheme we felt like this was something where we could make a difference,” said Alan Jamieson, Senior Pastor at the South West Baptist Church. 

“Our vision is for strong communities where people care for each other and for the world. We have been amazed at the outpouring of support for this endeavour.

“Everyone we talk to – businesses, community groups and individuals – are enthusiastic and want to help.  Complete strangers have donated household gear and money, and we’ve had job offers for when the families are settled,” said Jamieson.

Those who have been forced to flee their home countries talk about community sponsorship as a lifeline, a powerful network that enables a smooth transition to a new life. Amir Fattal is a refugee from Syria who was sponsored by a group in Canada. He said, “It’s like you have 15 people, each person has his connections, and each person says, ‘I can do this for you.’ When we came, we didn’t really know anything here. And they make us strong.”

“In Canada, the programme has already proven to be successful. It’s practically a way of life there. With enough support it could become a part of our lives too,” said de Ronde.

Take the I Welcome Pledge and help to ensure the future of community sponsorship of refugees.

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