We must not look away but take special care to see and hear

migrant workers

Thousands of migrant workers caught out in New Zealand by the spread of Covid-19 have found themselves in challenging circumstances.

On Sunday, the Catholic bishops of New Zealand want Catholic communities to reflect on the plight of these migrant workers.

21 June, is the annual Day of Prayer for Refugees and Migrants and the theme of this day is Where is your brother or sister?

With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the economy worldwide, in New Zealand, the government has been quick to offer emergency benefits to New Zealanders, the bishops note.

But the bishops say one big chunk of the workforce is missing out; migrant workers.

Pope Francis says: “We must not look away but take special care to see and hear our migrant brothers and sisters who are experiencing exploitation.”

They point out that even before the pandemic, migrant worker exploitation had been a serious problem that even the New Zealand Government has acknowledged by holding a review.

This week the government announced a three-month time-limited assistance programme will provide essentials like food, housing, petrol to get to a new job or the airport and over-the-counter medication but doesn’t include cash payments.

It comes with a warning from Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters: “If you can’t get back on your feet, you should leave New Zealand “as soon as possible”.

But the mayor of Queenstown, Jim Boult says it is a mistake to think the term migrant workers refers to people here for a short period of time.

“We have folk who have been here on essential skills visas sometimes up to 10 years.”

“They’ve been a hardworking part of our community. They’ve paid their taxes. They’ve helped build the tourism industry to what it was.”

“They’re active in local groups in their communities.”

“It’s not just as simple as saying to them ‘well, you need to go home’.”

Mangere East Family Services CEO Peter Sykes said the announcement was “nice”, but a lot of economic damage had already been done to families from the lack of assistance early on in the crisis.

“This is what you throw beggars on the street,” he said.

“A lot of migrants won’t even pick it [the assistance] up. It’s too much paperwork and it’s not actually what they need. What they need to know is that they’ve got a roof over their head and they’re treated with some respect.

Click here for resources Caritas resources for Day of Prayer for Refugees and Migrants


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