It’s a little-known fact, but Dunedin used to resettle refugees, taking in Cambodian refugees after the Khmer Rouge came into power in the 1970s.
In 2016, more than 40 years later, the city was named New Zealand’s ‘newest’ refugee resettlement city.
Under the new resettlement programme, Dunedin is expecting to absorb 30% of the country’s refugee quota. With new groups arriving every eight weeks, English Language Partners is playing an important role.
Since the arrival of the first group of Syrian refugees in 2016, teachers and volunteers have been working to make their learners feel as ‘’safe and comfortable’’ as possible in their classes, says Dunedin centre manager Paul Naidu.
“English is the golden key to successful settlement. We must be proactive, organic, flexible and well-prepared as more refugees make Dunedin their new home,’’ Paul says.
The often traumatic, unimaginable experiences of many refugees means staff are engaged in teaching and supporting them as sensitively and patiently as possible.
For some classes, the support includes an on-site playgroup assistant who keeps young children engaged while their parents learn English. This is important for those who often want their young children physically close, especially when they first arrive.
While providing services and language programmes is not without its challenges, it is worth the effort to see the results, Paul says.
“Seeing learners with little or no English grow in confidence and blossom is absolutely wonderful.’’