Refugees settling in Palmerston North now have a greater chance of finding work thanks to an initiative driven by a community police officer.
Darren Paki, Ethnic Liaison Officer based at Rossmont, was looking for ways to improve the transition to New Zealand life for local refugees and discovered that obtaining a restricted licence was a big stumbling block.
Having come from refugee camps, refugees usually find it difficult to save the funds that would take them from a learners licence to a restricted licence. Many employees, whilst happy to offer work, could only do so to people with a restricted licence. Increasingly, a drivers' licence is part of requirements for positions being offered.
Constable Paki contacted the Ethnic Council of Manawatu and Education Training Consultants Ltd to identify potential students and training options. He then secured $12,000 from the Ministry of Social Development to support a training scheme.
Eleven refugees from both Burma/Myanmar and the Republic of Congo have now undergone training. Nine have passed their tests and the remaining two are sitting their tests in the near future. A significant number of the group now have jobs lined up with opportunities being identified for the others.
Constable Paki said: "The positive impact of a simple scheme like this is huge. These people are from countries where many of them have faced physical torture and been unlawfully held, giving them a natural suspicion of authority. This scheme had helped to bridge the gaps and help them to trust the uniform.
"It has a benefit to road safety and assists them in finding work and becoming a settled member of the community. Without those opportunities we could see them pushed into a situation where they see committing crime as the only way to survive, and anything we can do to avoid that situation can only be a good thing."
Palmerston North's Settlement Support Coordinator, Shelley Davenport said: "Learning to drive is a pivotal part of settling successfully and finding employment; especially in New Zealand where work and housing can be at a distance from one another.
"We think it is brilliant to have the opportunity to offer this type of training, particularly to refugees who have come from very diverse and difficult circumstances. It opens up a much wider range of job opportunities for them."
Constable Paki hopes to be able to repeat the exercise and will be applying for further funding this year.
Media enquiries should be referred to Constable Darren Paki on 027237500 or Darren-Leigh.Paki@police.govt.nz