New Zealand is preparing to lift its refugee quota to 1500 next year. But figures obtained by the Herald show it is already struggling to house the existing quota of 1000 because of soaring demand for social housing and rental properties.
New refugees in New Zealand are getting stuck at South Auckland’s resettlement centre because there are no houses for them to move on to.
Nearly half of the 1000 refugees who arrived in the last year have remained at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre beyond the six-week introductory programme.
The delay in housing them is being blamed on a shortage of social and private rental properties, not only in Auckland but in other resettlement centres such as Dunedin and Invercargill.
And it is sparking concerns about whether New Zealand is fulfilling its obligation to care for its quota refugees – especially ahead of a lift in the annual quota from 1000 to 1500 next year.
Advocates say the delays can badly affect refugees, many of whom have been displaced for years when they arrive in New Zealand. They are also concerned that the problem could dampen Government or public appetite for increasing its quota further.
After arriving in New Zealand, refugees go through a six-week programme at the Mangere centre which assesses their needs and prepares them for living here. They are then moved into social housing or private rental properties.
But in the 11 months to May, 453 refugees remained at the centre after completing their six-week programme – up from 153 refugees in 2016/17. In one case, a refugee stayed at the centre for a further 91 days after their programme finished.
Immigration New Zealand national manager refugee division Andrew Lockhart said constraints on the supply of social and private rental housing had meant some quota refugees had remained at the centre after their six-week programme.
He said there was room for them at the resettlement centre because it was being expanded to cope with the increased quota in July.
Govt to spend $180m on increasing refugee quota. Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway blamed the housing shortages on the previous National-led Government. “We inherited a housing crisis from the previous Government and it affects everybody,” he said.
Most refugees qualify for social housing. The official waiting list in March for social housing was 11,067 individuals or families – up 40 per cent from a year earlier. The Government plans to build more social housing, but it is planning only 6400 more houses and they won’t be built until 2022.
Refugee advocate Arif Saeid said some refugees felt stranded if housing was not found for them. Dr Arif Saeid, a refugee advocate who once worked at the Mangere centre, said the delays in being housed had an impact on new arrivals. “It does affect them. People make friendships with others at the centre, then all of them leave. “They stay behind and feel like, ‘We are the ones who did not get a home, we did not get what we [were] meant to get’. “Also, when a new group comes, all the attention is on the new group. People who stay behind don’t get as many services. They have food and accommodation of course but they no longer get the same attention.”
Saeid said he was concerned the housing shortage could be used as an excuse for not taking more refugees in the Government’s three-yearly reviews of the quota.
Lees-Galloway said he was confident the housing shortfall would be resolved when six new resettlement locations were opened up next year.
Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway says refugees will be settled in five new locations from next year, making it easier to find places for them to live. At present refugees are resettled in eight regions. This year Timaru, Whanganui, Blenheim, Masterton, Levin and Ashburton are being added to the list. A Cabinet paper from September shows the Government is also considering more funding for Immigration New Zealand to secure tenancies for refugees before they leave the Mangere centre.
• Annual refugee quota: 1000
• Number of refugees remaining at Mangere resettlement centre after six-week programme:
• Social housing waiting list: 11,067 (March 2019)
• Govt plans to build 6400 public houses by 2022