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Fuel costs force refugee volunteers off road

MEDIA RELEASE – for immediate release

18 August 2005

Fuel costs force refugee volunteers off road

Volunteers who give up their time to help refugee families settle into their new lives in New Zealand are being forced to quit due to rising fuel prices.

RMS Refugee Resettlement National Training Co-ordinator Fiona McKinney says a number of trained Auckland volunteers had recently been forced to give up their roles because they could no longer afford the costs of criss-crossing Auckland to help their refugee families.

“It’s a tough and difficult decision for them to make, especially as they have given up their time to train and pass a comprehensive, NZQA-recognised training programme,” says Ms McKinney.

She said one solution could be for volunteers to be reimbursed for petrol costs but current regulations make this extremely difficult.

“We‘re a bit nervous about tax complications if we give donations such as petrol vouchers to volunteers. It should be enough that volunteers give up their time to help others. To expect them to endure a financial burden on top of that is unrealistic.”

Ms McKinney said that while the Government relied very heavily on the country’s tangata whenua, and community and voluntary sector organisations to provide essential services at all levels of society, the difference between the voluntary and commercial sectors was usually ignored in legislation.

“The volunteer sector struggles to find its place amid the ever-increasing number of Government rules, regulations and policies. We are forced to devote an increasing amount of time to ensuring we meet OSH requirements, auditing standards and so on. These demands on our ‘infrastructure time’ are not covered by our funding but must be done nevertheless.

“We recognise that these policies and regulations need to be in place but equally feel that legislators should recognise the true costs of compliance when setting funding parameters.”

RMS Refugee Resettlement is New Zealand’s national refugee resettlement agency. The non-profit, non-government organisation assists with settling the 750 “quota” refugees New Zealand accepts each year through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

“We use volunteers as a matter of principle, because they are able to provide a link between refugees and their new communities in a way that paid employees simply could not achieve. That means we need to find and train about 400 new volunteers each year.

“Our funding simply does not reflect the fact that to achieve this number we face unavoidable advertising, communications and administrative overheads.”

Since beginning work in 1975 RMS Refugee Resettlement has helped more than 40,000 refugees start new lives in New Zealand, working on three levels – service provision, public education and refugee policy.

Statistics New Zealand figures from 2002 show that New Zealanders aged 15 years and over spent 536 million hours on unpaid work outside the home in 1999. The estimated value of this work was just over $5 billion a year, equivalent to over five percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

Funding, sustainability, and the value and independence of the sector are key issues that the sector is seeking to highlight through a new community and voluntary sector communications project called COMVOICES. The project is made up of Tangata Whenua and leading community and voluntary sector organisations.

More information about the work of RMS Refugee Resettlement can be found at www.rms.org.nz

ENDS

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