The Salvation Army has mounting concerns over what is becoming a refugee crisis in Queenstown.
Many migrant workers, who fill a large proportion of hospitality and tourism jobs in the town, have found themselves unable to travel back home, without a job, and with no form of support, yet still having to pay large rent bills.
The Salvation Army joined with Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Jim Boult and the Queenstown branches of the Citizens Advice Bureau and Chamber of Commerce in calling for the Government to allow migrants to access the Job Seeker Allowance during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The district’s QLDC-led Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) has received more than 5,000 requests for welfare assistance from members of the community facing significant hardship due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, to which The Salvation Army has mobilised in response.
However, short-term welfare will not resolve an ongoing issue for vulnerable migrants, The Salvation Army Queenstown Director of Community Ministries Lieutenant Andrew Wilson says.
“Giving food parcels and material goods is like putting a band-aid on the Titanic. Many migrants cannot return home, either because their country is in total lockdown or they do not have the resources to pay for flights.
“We've had one case where the individual was made redundant two weeks before the level 4 lockdown. They had booked flights to return to their home country but their flight was cancelled at the last minute. They are now stuck here with no means of returning home but is still required to pay for rent and outgoings.”
“We have seen a 600 percent increase in requests for services since the lockdown began. These have typically been requests for food parcels and winter clothing and bedding,” Lt Wilson says.