Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand is to lead the coordination of a number of Catholic organisations who will support a refugee family to settle in New Zealand.

Caritas is one of four organisations approved for the new Community Organisation Refugee Sponsorship (CORS) programme.

The new category aims to provide additional forms of admission; allow community organisations to actively engage in refugee resettlement; and enable sponsored refugees to quickly become self-supporting and to facilitate integration into New Zealand communities.

In New Zealand, the Catholic Church, along with many civil society organisations, has called for the creation of a community sponsorship model based on the Canadian scheme running since 1979.

“We believe this programme will have many benefits for the refugees, the community organisations, and New Zealand communities,” said Caritas director Julianne Hickey.

“This pilot adds to the refugee quota; local communities are able to work with their local organisations to nominate refugees; there are shared costs and services by the Catholic Church and New Zealand Government; and refugees will be able to access services to fully participate in their communities.”

The Catholic partnership was created by Suzie and Pat McCarthy who took pilgrims to meet refugees in Jordan who had fled from ISIS militants.

Upon their return they established a partnership between the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem NZ (a Catholic lay order to which they belong) and St Addai Chaldean Community.

The Catholic diocese of Hamilton joined the partnership due to a Government requirement that refugees must be settled outside of Auckland.

The partnership was formalised by the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference, which endorsed Caritas as the lead organisation.

“Each organisation has a skill or area of expertise they can contribute to the resettlement process,” said Mrs Hickey.

“By working alongside other organisations, we demonstrate what it means to be a community.”

The pilot intake will consist of up to 30 refugees now living in Jordan or Lebanon.

For the first two years, sponsoring organisations undertake to provide rental accommodation, core furniture and household goods for the refugees they sponsor, plus community orientation and services, and help to find sustainable employment.

Participants in the programme are still being vetted using standards set forth by UNHCR, Immigration NZ, CORS, and the Catholic Church.

Families are set to arrive in June, 2018.

Mrs Hickey noted that, “as we anticipate this pilot, we hope to call upon the words of Pope Francis from the recent World Day of Peace: ‘Welcoming others requires concrete commitment, a network of assistance and goodwill, vigilant and sympathetic attention, the responsible management of new and complex situations that at times compound numerous existing problems, to say nothing of resources, which are always limited’.”

Over the course of the project, Caritas will be providing feedback to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), as well as to the bishops and communities.

“Pope Francis reminds us of the many gifts that migrants and refugees bring: courage, skills, energy, tenacity, aspirations, and culture,” said Mrs Hickey.

“We are excited to open our hearts and communities to these families.” Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway announced last month that the four community-based organisations approved to sponsor refugees in this new pilot scheme are Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand (Wellington), Gleniti Baptist Church (Timaru), South West Baptist Church (Christchurch) and the Society of St Vincent de Paul (Nelson).

Mr Lees-Galloway said the sponsored refugees will participate in a tailored two week reception programme at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre prior to settling in the communities with the settlement support provided by their approved community organisation sponsor.

“The Community Organisation Refugee Sponsorship Category is only one of the ways this Government is committed to supporting some of the world’s most vulnerable people to rebuild their lives and thrive in New Zealand.

“This is in addition to and complements our existing refugee quota.”

An evaluation of the pilot programme will be undertaken by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and will be completed by December 2018.

The evaluation will be used to inform any future implementation of the new category. Mr Lees-Galloway said the new approach will help bring communities together, so they can fell involved in supporting refugees to settle into New Zealand life.

“With this grassroots approach come positive social, economic and cultural benefits both for the community and the resettled refugees.”