Southland’s hospitality helps new Kiwis to settle well

16 January 2024

Southland community has welcomed 353 former refugees since 2018 with warmth and kind hearts as they rebuild their lives in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Samuel Irankunda arrived at Invercargill airport in March 2023 with doubts and fears in his mind. He was uncertain about how people would treat him, and he was afraid of how he would be able to start his life again without family and friends. In less than a year, however, he feels he has formed strong connections with the local community. 

“I was asking myself how I’m going to live here without people I know. I thought it might take a long time to get a job. Now, I have sorted everything out and settled. People here have love in their hearts. They helped me feel at home.”

Samuel, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, is among 89 former refugees who arrived in Invercargill to rebuild their lives, in 2023.

Samuel Irankunda

Samuel Irankunda

Nelson Gomez and Leudy Moral, originally from Colombia, have also felt Southland’s welcome and are embracing every opportunity to integrate into the community in Invercargill, since arriving in June 2022.

“Safety and peace in the community is the best thing in Invercargill. In the beginning, it was a bit difficult, but we have been learning and improving. Now we feel like we are fitting in with the community,” Nelson says.

Samuel, Nelson, and Leudy are just three of the 353 former refugees who have come to Southland since 2018, when New Zealand Red Cross began providing refugee community settlement services in Invercargill. They all had to leave their original homelands – countries such as Colombia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo – and they have brought with them a wide range of skills and diverse cultures.

Daphne Stringer, a tutor from English Language Partners, works closely with these new New Zealanders helping them improve their language skills. She believes they too bring warmth and energy to the Southland community. 

“The young people have a zest for life. They want to hit the ground running and get going. The older people have got the most amazing stories. They bring resilience and depth of life experience, a desire to be a part of New Zealand, as well as maintaining their own culture.”

Support upon arrival into the community

When former refugees arrive in the community, our migration team meet them at the airport and take them to their new homes – homes that have already been set up by us and our invaluable volunteers, so the families can move in straight away. 

Refugee support volunteer Glenys Findlay

Refugee support volunteer Glenys Findlay

Volunteers work in small groups to support families or individuals find their feet when they first arrive. Our Volunteer Programme Lead for Southland, Darren Frazer says, “our volunteers share a strong bond with families and individuals they support. They are the crucial link to the local community. Our volunteers are local, friendly people with a wealth of local knowledge they can share.” 

Refugee support volunteer Glenys Findlay feels privileged to be able to support new Kiwis. 

“It's a wonderful way to get to know new people coming to New Zealand and welcome them into our country. It's simply just a pleasure to get to know them. They become part of your family, an extended family, and it's a wonderful experience being a volunteer.”

Connecting former refugees to meaningful employment 

Samuel, Nelson and Leudy are now all employed, assisted by our Pathways to Employment team. The team works with job seekers to offer training and identify skills so they can be suitably matched with potential employers. Our Pathways to Employment team has supported 177 former refugees into meaningful work in Southland, since 2018.

Samuel is now employed by English Language Partners as a Bilingual Support Worker, helping other people from the Democratic Republic of Congo who have recently arrived in Invercargill. He says, “my life is good here. I have work so I can get money to buy things that I want. I’m still trying to catch the pace and learning a lot from people who arrived before me.”

Samuel and Daphne during class at English Language Partners

Samuel and Daphne during a class at English Language Partners

Samuel works with tutor Daphne Stringer and provides a crucial bridge between learners and tutors. 

Daphne explains, “some classes I run are for learners who have no written language ability even in their own language. So, without Samuel, the learning process would be significantly slower than what it is.”

Samuel also has another part-time role as a Refugee Liaison Support with WellSouth, a regional primary health provider. 

Phil Dobson, Pathways to Employment Manager, says, “we’ve been able to work with amazing organisations such as South Port, WellSouth and English Language Partners to secure opportunities where former refugees have been able to grow and develop and start rewarding career paths.”

Nelson and Leudy are currently working as Cool Store Operators at South Port – a commercial deepwater port. Getting work has made a lot of difference to the couple.

“When you start working a lot of things improve in your personal life. The community here encourage people to take the steps, believe in themselves and achieve their goals,” Nelson says.

Learning English has been all important for the couple and they’re improving well with the support from New Zealand Red Cross and their employer, South Port. 

Leudy Moral and Nelson Gomez, employees at South Port

South Port employees Leudy Moral and Nelson Gomez

Murray Wood, Warehousing Manager for South Port, acknowledges language has been a challenge for them but says, “the big thing is they're keen to work, they're reliable and they're just lovely people to have here.”

Murray’s advice to other Southland employees thinking about hiring former refugees is “don't be scared, embrace it. We're all here. Everybody has got different experiences in life and people, when they're given a chance, they embrace it. So, it's been exciting and a great journey, and well supported by the Red Cross.”

For more information  

How you can help    

There are plenty of ways you can get involved with former refugees in your community.   

Our volunteers are extraordinary community helpers who welcome new Kiwis.

Become a refugee support volunteer

Our teams work with refugee-background job seekers who have a vast range of skills, qualifications, and employment histories.

Give a former refugee a job opportunity

Business partnerships are critical to our work helping people in New Zealand and overseas. Explore different ways your business can support our work and make an impact.

Partner with us

How we support  

Pathways to Settlement supports former refugees in New Zealand when they begin their settlement journey.

Refugee resettlement  
Pathways to Employment helps people from refugee backgrounds to work and supports employers to increase diversity in their organisations.

Finding a job  


Header image: (From left to right) Nelson Gomez, Leudy Moral, Murray Wood, Warehousing Manager, South Port New Zealand and Dubertney Buesaquillo, South Port Employee. Photo: Darren Frazer