It’s an exciting week in Blenheim. The community has been gearing up for an important and longed-for moment: the day the first former refugee family finally settles in Blenheim.

In February 2019, the Government announced several new towns around New Zealand would become new homes to people who have fled war, persecutions or conflict - and Blenheim was among these new refugee settlement locations revealed last year.

While the families were due to arrive in the Marlborough region in April 2020, their arrival was halted by the threat of COVID-19 and the nationwide lockdown. The families’ usual stay at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre was extended and after over four months in Auckland, one family has finally arrived to Blenheim. 

“It’s been a long wait!” says Gretchen Bristed, a Red Cross refugee support volunteer.

“I look forward to helping the family settle in our community, in their new home. We’re setting up their house and we will be at the airport when the plane lands.”

Red Cross refugee support volunteers Hugh Angus and Gretchen Bristed setting up the house for the Vargas family.

Refugee support volunteers play a vital role in ensuring new Kiwis have the best possible start in their new community; from collecting donations for their homes, taking the family to the supermarket, organising enrolment at the local GP and school, to showing them how to make their way around the city. They also become their first local friends.

For the rest of the team in Blenheim, the preparation for the arrivals of former refugees into the community has kept everyone busy.

“We’ve had to open a new office in Blenheim, recruit new staff such as social workers and interpreters, and train our volunteers online because of the lockdown, which prevented face-to-face training from happening,” explains Sue Price, Migration Manager.

“We are very excited about their arrival. We look forward to saying ‘welcome home’ to the family.”

Blenheim's newest residents - the Vargas family.

New Zealand Red Cross supports new arrivals for their first year into the community. Our role is to offer practical day-to-day support, tools to navigate their new Kiwi life, and help with long-term planning, as well as links to the wider community.

People with refugee backgrounds also arrive to the country with skills and an eagerness to join the workforce. New Zealand Red Cross’ Pathways to Employment programme offers a hand to former refugees to find employment, map out career goals and access training.

Support new Kiwis

Refugee settlement is most successful when the whole community is involved. Here are some ways you can help newly arrived former refugees in your community: