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New refugee interpreter service to start soon

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Former refugees living in Dunedin will soon be able to use a new interpreter service to help them access community services.

The pilot scheme is a joint initiative between the Dunedin City Council and Southern District Health Board. The DCC is providing the funding and Southern DHB is co-ordinating the service. The service is expected to start later this month.

DCC Manager Community Development and Events Joy Gunn says, “Language barriers have been identified is a significant barrier to former refugees settling well and feeling part of a community. There are more than 400 former refugees already in Dunedin, and around 180 more expected each year. The interpreting service aims to support these newcomers to Dunedin to access community services.” 

Red Cross provides support services for up to the first 12 months when a refugee is settled, but often issues can come up after that which require additional support. While central government provides funding for English language classes for former refugees, there is no funding to help them access community services, such as legal, immigration and budget advice.

Since the beginning of the refugee resettlement in Dunedin, Southern DHB has been providing an interpreter service for all health providers in Dunedin, so it made sense for the DCC and the SDHB to work together to provide this new scheme. Southern DHB will liaise with an identified set of community organisations who can access the service when they have clients in need of an interpreter. At this stage the service provides Arabic interpreters only, but will be expanded once Dunedin becomes a resettlement centre for Afghan families.

Southern DHB Programme Lead of Refugee Health Wesley Bachur says, “It is very exciting to be partnering with the DCC in providing an interpreter service. While former refugees settle in and learn English, we really want to ensure they are able to communicate with community services in Dunedin. We know that the more people are able to integrate into their new environments, the better this is for their greater wellbeing and overall health – and removing language barriers is a key part of this.

“This is part of a whole of community approach to caring for newcomers in the city and we are very proud to be working with the DCC to support wellbeing in this way.”

The service has primarily been established to meet the needs of former refugees, but both organisations recognise there may be some people who have migrated to Dunedin who also need interpreting supports to access social services.

Ms Gunn believes the DCC and Southern DHB are the first New Zealand council and DHB to provide co-ordinated interpreter services like these across the community. The pilot scheme will be evaluated over coming months to see how it is used.

The DCC has put aside $80,000 a year to support community development for migrant and refugee groups. The interpreter service was identified as a key priority and will be funded from this money. Other projects include DCC support for community hui and events that are focused on former refugees and migrants as well as translation of information for these residents.